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How Exercising in Cold Weather Benefits the Heart

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By: Karen Yontz Center Staff

There’s no denying that it can be hard to motivate yourself to exercise at this time of year. Shorter days tend to mean leaving for and coming home from work in the dark. The air temperature can swing from chilly to cold to downright freezing. And on any given day, you may find that it’s snowing, sleeting, raining, windy, or a combination of the above. Why would you want to be anywhere but in your nice, cozy home when the weather turns brutal?

The truth is, exercising outdoors—even in winter—can provide you with some fantastic health benefits. First, there are the benefits to your heart. Winter outdoor activities can burn some serious calories and really get your heart pumping. Whether you go snowmobiling (170 cal/hr*) or cross-country skiing (476 cal/hr*), ice skating (408 cal/hr*) or sledding (408 cal/hr*), your body works hard to keep you warm in addition to keeping your body moving which means it’s doing extra work. This extra work improves your endurance by strengthening your heart which boosts your overall health. It also likely means more pounds off when you step on the scale.

Additionally, exercising in cold weather strengthens your circulatory system, which helps boost your immunity to everyday germs. In fact, a study from The American Journal of Medicine found that older women who walked for a half an hour each day for a whole year had 50% fewer colds than women who didn’t exercise at all during the same period. It may seem counterintuitive that getting out in the cold weather actually prevents you from getting sick, but that is definitely the case.

Getting outside to exercise in the winter is also a good way to keep your spirits from sinking. Getting outside even for 15 minutes in the middle of the day to let the sun hit your face can boost your immunity as well as raise “feel-good” hormones in your body like dopamine. And that little bit of sunlight can help you sleep better at night as well by regulating melatonin levels which control your circadian rhythms. Just be sure to wear sunscreen and sunglasses like you would under the summer sun—winter sunlight has just as much potential to burn you, especially if it’s bouncing off of the snow.

While it may be more difficult to convince yourself to hit the ski trail, the sledding hill, or even the pavement as winter sets in, doing so is not without rewards. Make sure you check with your doctor to see if it’s safe for you to exercise and then put on your hat, mittens, and jacket and head out. Your heart, and the rest of your body, will thank you.

*Based on a 150 lb. person

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