Shorter days and less sunlight tend to send most of us into hibernation mode. And when our moods darken, warm comfort food that packs on the pounds can seem irresistible. But if you want to keep or get fit, winter might just be your new best friend. New research is showing cold weather—particularly exercising in it—has some pretty interesting health benefits.
Cold weather turns bad fat good again
“Brown fat” is the heat-producing, calorie-burning fat that babies need to regulate their body temperatures. Most of it disappears with age, often being replaced with white fat—the bad stuff—that can up the risk of health problems like heart disease and diabetes.
But a study in the Journal of Clinical Investigation found that being active outdoors in cold weather can burn an extra 108 calories. Researchers also found that when you stay in the cold longer, your body can start converting white fat to brown.
Run to the light
Sunny winter skies are definitely reason to celebrate spending the coldest season of the year in Edmonton. That coveted sunlight can help improve your mood and prevent or reduce seasonal affective disorder (SAD). How? Sunlight makes your body release endorphins, and those endorphins trigger dopamine and serotonin—our happy hormones. So make sure to head outside and soak up some rays on the shorter winter days.
Ways to embrace your winter workout
1. Stay close to home
If you don’t have equipment to work out at home, get a membership at a fitness facility in your neighbourhood, or look for nearby parks and trails. Try setting up your own winter boot camp, or just go for a walk with your dog, or a run in the snow— stepping and running on uneven surfaces burns more calories. Make sure to choose shoes with deeper treads or invest in some spikes, run slower and with shorter strides, avoid hills and get out before the powder turns into hard-packed ice.
2. Get some help
If you don’t know where to begin with a workout plan, getting a fitness assessment is a good place to start. Signing up for classes you enjoy or playing sports can help motivate you when you would really rather cuddle up under a blanket.
3. Take advantage of living in a winter city
Outdoor rinks and tobogganing hills are generally community staples in northern cities. Whether you’re single, married or introducing sports and outdoor fun to your kids, taking part in seasonal activities like skating, hockey, tobogganing, snowshoeing, building a snowman and having a snowball fight will help you keep active and increase your brown fat during the winter.
4. Be a snow angel
Grab your shovel and lend a hand while getting a great workout. Shovelling can burn around 400 calories an hour, so when you’re done your driveway, keep the workout going by helping your neighbours.
Even though the mercury is lower, the same rules apply.
Don’t skip your warm up—preparing your lungs for the cold by warming up inside and then outside is always a good idea. It can make your workout more efficient and keep you from getting chilled to the bone.
Drink water—you might not notice you’re sweating as much in the cold, so don’t wait until you’re thirsty.
Make sure to cool down—take a few minutes once you’re inside again (and before you pour the hot chocolate) to stretch the muscles you used to help reduce soreness.
Marc Britten is the marketing manager for MacEwan University Sport and Wellness and previously worked with the Students’ Association. He graduated from MacEwan’s Journalism program in 2000.
Amy Kemp has a Bachelor of Physical Education and is certified with the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiologists as a certified personal trainer. She specializes in training individuals with weight management goals and anyone looking for a fun and challenging workout.
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