The 7 surprising benefits of working out in the cold


Nothing says ‘hibernation’ and ‘eat your body weight in chocolate under the doona’ quite like dark skies and howling winds, we’ll give you that, but resist the urge.

Conjuring up your inner drill sergeant and taking your exercise regimen (existing or otherwise) out into the cold could reward you with a host of health benefits you never thought possible. Here’s what you’ll gain from a cold change.

1. You’ll burn more fat

Exercising for weight loss is nothing new, but exercising in cold weather could help you shed more off your frame than doing the same work in moderate or warm temperatures. So say scientists at the University of Kentucky in the US, who found that exposure to cold temperatures helps convert white fat tissue from the belly and thighs to beige or brown fat – a type of fat that burns calories to help your body retain its heat. Let’s just call it what it is: value-added exercise.

2. You’ll soak up vitamin D

In the middle of a harsh Australian summer, the sun gets a pretty bad (and often deserved) rap, but spending a bit of time in winter rays helps boost your levels of vitamin D, leading to stronger bones, lower blood pressure and a reduced risk of developing diabetes and cancer. Not only that, but a study by Queen Margaret University in Scotland revealed that test subjects who went running while taking vitamin D supplements for two weeks significantly improved their exercise performance.

3. It will lift your mood

Even just soaking up a few minutes of fresh air can leave you feeling brighter. A study at the University of Essex in the UK revealed that exercising outside, even for as little as five minutes, promotes feelings of positivity and revitalisation. And research by Zayed University in the United Arab Emirates revealed that spending time in natural light helps decrease the risk of SAD (seasonal affective disorder), which is common in winter.

4. It will boost your immune system

You may not feel like plunging headlong into icy waters at your local beach or swimming pool come winter, but doing so and quickly following it up with a hot bath or shower could reward your body with an improved immune system. That’s the finding of Polish scientists who looked at the effects of thermal stress on the body, and discovered that study participants who subjected themselves to the cold/hot shock significantly increased their white cell count, which helps protect the body against cold and flu.

5. You’ll run faster

Just because you didn’t make it to the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games doesn’t mean you should give up on your athletic talent just yet. A study by Northern Arizona University in the US found that regularly exercising in cold weather not only helps train your lungs to utilise oxygen more efficiently, but you can also break through the shivers to increase your running speed by a not-too-shabby 29 per cent.

6. You’ll stay hydrated

Studies show that our reduced thirst and fluid intake in winter can quickly lead to dehydration, which in turn can disrupt many major bodily functions. It’s a situation that can (bizarrely) be counteracted by working up a sweat then drinking plenty of water to quench your thirst. The benefits don’t end there – drinking water post-exercise also increases your metabolic rate by as much as 30 per cent, which super-charges your body’s ability to burn fat.

7. It will keep you toned

Taking the occasional short break from your exercise regimen isn’t going to hurt, but making a longer winter concession is a different story, say the academics behind a Spanish study that found muscular strength diminishes in as little as four weeks post-exercise. Their advice? Keep up your regular fitness routine through winter and you’ll bounce your way into spring feeling fitter and happier.

For more on this topic, these are Tiff Hall’s 10 tips to keeping the weight off this winter, plus here are 7 expert motivation tips for when you just can’t.

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