A springtime stroll, a sunny summer trek, a crisp autumn hike-they all have charm and appeal. But what about a winter walk? Some people never even give cold-weather walks a chance. This year, don’t put away your walking shoes just because the temperature is dropping. It’s time to embrace the energizing power of a winter walk.
When the weather gets brisk, plenty of people opt for indoor workouts (or no workouts at all). Of course, gyms and health clubs can provide various equipment and exercise options, but research suggests that taking your workout outside may provide additional benefits. Studies have concluded that exercising in natural environments decreases stress and depression, increases energy, and produces more powerful revitalization feelings than exercising indoors.
Blend of Nature and Exercise
According to Shirley Archer, the mind-body spokesperson for IDEA Health and Fitness Association and the author of The Walking Deck: 50 Ways to Walk, physical activity and the great outdoors are the perfect pairing Yourself Healthy.
“The studies tell us that you’ll feel more refreshed and have a sense of more energy from exercising outdoors,” says Archer. “You can work harder and longer–and you won’t feel as beaten up!”
The benefits don’t stop there. “Indoor exercise tends to be more linear as far as fitness goes,” says Michael C. Meyers, Ph.D., professor, and director of the Human Performance Laboratory at Idaho State University. “Outside exercise takes into account agility, coordination, and balance–and reaction and response.”
For example, when you hike or bike outdoors, you’re dealing with changing terrains and distractions that keep your mind and body constantly engaged.
That engagement helps enhance the mind-body connection. “The sounds and sights of nature are very soothing,” says Archer. “The modern technological lifestyle that most of us lead today is very artificial–and very new to human beings. Historically, we’ve been living in an outdoor environment, so being in a state of nature is what feels most at home for our bodies.”
Still better, you get a dose of vitamin D from the sun, and you’re spending more time outside of germ-laden environments (such as gyms), so you may be less likely to get sick.
Be Ready to Exercise Outside
Ready to start exercising outside? Your outdoor gym is open 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, so you can work out at any time that works for you. Here are a few tips for winter walking:
Dress for Better Results
If you’re exercising in cold weather, you may feel slightly chilled as you start out. As you warm-up, you’ll start to feel more comfortable. Wear easily removable layers of clothes to keep your body warm but not overheated. Depending on the temperature, you may want a hat, gloves, and scarf. Comfortable, Sturdy shoes that fit well are essential.
Plan Your Walk
When you head out, go into the wind; you’ll return with the wind at your back. If you are out longer than 15-20 minutes, take a water bottle with you to stay hydrated.
Try to Embrace the Environment
For the most benefits, leave your headphones at home and embrace your environment. Focusing on the sights, sounds, and sensations of outdoor exercise will help you cultivate a calming, refreshing experience. If you do want to take your phone, mute your calls and texts so that you’re can let go of your day-to-day concerns.
Set a Goal
If you regularly walk for exercise, consider how hard you want to push yourself. Maybe some days you want to walk a little faster, or a little longer, to get a more demanding workout. On other days, you may want to take your time, using the time to breathe, think, or pray. A walk like this can be a wonderful time to express gratitude for your physical health and the beautiful world God created.
Researchers have found that just being in nature helps lower stress levels and boost immune function, so even if you walk a short distance at a slow pace, you’ll still experience health benefits.
Combination of Tips
Even if you prefer to exercise indoors, and the occasional outside workout will be useful for you. A study examined people’s self-selected workout activities and whether they exercised indoors, outdoors, or both. “We found that a combination of outdoor and indoor exercise for women provided the most protection from stress and tension and improved overall health perception,” says lead author Robin Puett, Ph.D., an associate professor at the Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health.
Don’t let the colder temperatures keep you stuck inside. Take a winter walk–and you’ll reap the emotional and physical benefits.