If the winter months make you want to hibernate, I understand. Living in Pennsylvania, I completely feel the dread of the freezing winter months! Between all the layers and accessories needed just to walk the dog, it can seem like too much work to get out there. But you should. You really, really should… because the 5 benefits of being outside this winter are too big to ignore!
For the best winter coats to keep you stylish and warm this winter, check out this post.
#1 | Immunity
It may seem counterintuitive that being outside in the winter boosts immunity, but it does! Scientists found that when people spend time in nature, their immune systems become stronger. The reasoning isn’t just because of the cleaner air. Although, that is a side benefit. When we breathe in the gases that plants give off, our bodies react by elevating levels of cells that fight infections. And that’s not all… Being in nature also reduces cortisol (the stress hormone) which helps improves sleep. Yet another way your immunity strengthens.
The evidence that being in nature produces profound health benefits is growing. And it’s fostering a movement toward encouraging healthcare professionals to prescribe being outside to patients. While we’re not there yet, taking a walk in the cold, winter woods certainly won’t hurt. Don’t be afraid that the runny nose you get is a sign of infection either. In most cases, a runny nose after you’ve been outside in the cold just means that the lining of your sinuses has thinned to keep bacteria out. It should go away quickly after they’ve warmed back up.
#2 | Mood
When we leave for work in the dark and come home in the dark, it’s no surprise that people struggle to feel upbeat during the winter. There is something about being surrounded by half-light that seems dreary. Getting outside during the day, even for 20 or 30 minutes, will help. The sunlight helps your body regulate to the day, which is another way to improve sleep and mood. But even if you can’t get outside during the brightest part of the day, or you live in a perpetually gray area (hello, Pittsburgh!), being in nature at all will help. When the cold weather drives us indoors, we can feel more isolated. Leaving our homes for nature lets us shake off the cabin fever and reconnect with others. It also helps our creativity. The soothing landscape and changing visuals also stimulate creativity. When our “creative juices” start flowing, it increases our positive thinking.
#3 | Mindfulness
In those moments when it feels like winter may last forever, and you feel like you’re losing yourself in the slump of work and semi-hibernation, getting outside could be exactly what you need to bring yourself back to the moment. Allowing yourself to take a walk in nature without any music, podcasts, or other distractions will give you the deep breathing and physical cues you can use to practice mindfulness. By focusing on the walk and nature around you, you increase your awareness. Use your senses to help tune in to what is around you. For some people, engaging in a mindfulness practice can be easier outdoors. The act of mindfulness while moving gives you something to do while harnessing your thoughts. Sure, your thoughts will probably get away from you. But work to bring them back to the walk.
#4 | Vitamin D
Vitamin D is called the “sunshine vitamin.” Our bodies use it to control calcium and support immunity. And Vitamin D deficiency is common year-round. But the chances of people becoming more deficient in winter is higher because we get less exposure to sunlight. Since we’re bundled up and our skin is covered in the winter, you have to be conscious about getting that much-needed Vitamin D!
How much sunlight you need depends on where you live, how cloudy it is, and what your skin is like. But given that most winter sunlight is weaker than summer sun, aim for a couple of hours over the course of a week. Midday sun is best because it’s at its strongest point. But no matter when you get outside…every minute counts!
There is a difference between supplements and sunlight too. While supplements can help, in some cases, they may cause more harm than good. Depending on the type of Vitamin D and the manufacturing quality, your body may have a difficult time processing the supplements. With sunlight, you can’t “get too much” from a Vitamin D perspective. And your body uses all of what it gets efficiently.
Of course, make sure you’re staying sun-safe by wearing a daily SPF. For clean sunscreens we love, check out this post.
#5 | Exercise
Being outside in winter can also be a highly effective exercise. Depending on what you’re doing while you’re outside, outdoor winter exercise can quickly trump an indoor workout. First, exercising outside in winter burns more fat. There are peptides, or amino acid chains, in our muscles that, when activated, create more mitochondria. Those mitochondria live on fat. Because those peptides are activated by both cold weather AND exercise, combining the two gives you a high return on your workout.
Second, our hearts need to work harder when we exercise in snow and winter weather. Taking your exercise outside lets you train harder. This extra demand on your body will increase its efficiency and make you stronger and fitter. At the same time, the increased work means you’re burning more calories on the same 5 mile run through your neighborhood. Many people think that breathing the cold air strengthens lungs too!
Finally, resting metabolism improves when we exercise in the cold. Your resting metabolism is how much energy you need when you are completely at rest. So the least amount of calories you’re burning over the course of a day. Exercising outside during winter forces your body to work hard to stay warm. It gets into your body’s reserves, forcing your body to spend more energy at rest than it did before.
Busbee Frozen 500
Making the effort to get outside this winter is worth it. Your body, mind, and spirit will benefit from even a few minutes every day. If you need more motivation, consider joining the Frozen 500 Challenge. Over the course of a month, it challenges you to walk, run, or ski 500 minutes outside. That’s 25 20-minute sessions. So do-able! You can share pictures of your success using the hashtag #busbeefrozen500. You can also share and follow in the private Facebook group, The Hive.
How do you enjoy getting outside in the winter? What other winter wellness tips do you have? Please let me know in the comments!
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