No, it’s not just your imagination. Fall is here in full swing, and winter’s not too far behind. Unless you’re based on the equator, that means colorful leaves, cooler weather and a chance to get outside and exercise without overheating.
While hibernating might seem like a good idea, there are plenty of reasons to run, bike or otherwise exert yourself when the temperature dips. Here, we’ll prove it with 10 great things about exercising in cooler weather, from performance gains to an immunity boost:
YOU COULD BURN MORE CALORIES
The verdict’s not entirely clear on this one, but some experts believe exposure to cold weather may be the key to burning more calories. The caveat here is you have to actually be cold to benefit, and exercise warms you up. If you’re bundled in 10 layers and draped in an electric blanket, your body won’t be cold enough to experience the extra calorie expenditure.
YOU MIGHT SPEED UP
A study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise looked at marathon finishers across many races and years. Researchers found performance progressively decreased as the temperature increased from 40ºF to 77ºF. It’s difficult to run in the heat. Of course, there is a cap to how well your body performs in cooler weather. Once the temperature creeps below 40ºF, you start to slow down a bit, as blood vessels constrict, forcing your heart to work harder.
YOU CAN GO FARTHER
Cooler weather not only helps you go faster, but it can also improve your distance for many of the same reasons. According to a study from the University of Aberdeen’s medical school, the ideal temperature for improving endurance is about 50ºF. If it’s much warmer, your heart has to work harder to maintain the same intensity, which leads to fatigue. Another study notes that cooler temperatures correspond with a slower rise in body heat during exercise, which can delay fatigue and lead to better performance.
YOU’LL INCREASE YOUR BROWN FAT (WHICH IS A GOOD THING)
Humans have two kinds of fat: white and brown. The white stuff increases your risk for Type 2 diabetes and contributes to obesity. Brown fat is much less nefarious, as it burns energy to help maintain body temperature, which boosts your metabolism. Studies show exposure to cold actually increases brown fat, thereby increasing your body’s internal furnace.
EXERCISE COMBATS SEASON DEPRESSION
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression linked to fall and winter. If the dark, cold months make you feel depressed, exercise can often help. It increases serotonin and endorphins, those feel-good chemicals in your body. Exercise outside in sunlight, and you might feel even better, as light exposure is another great way to lessen the symptoms of SAD.
IT MAY STRENGTHEN YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM
Exercise is a simple way to help ward off illness during cold and flu season. According to the National Institutes of Health, “Physical activity may help flush bacteria out of the lungs and airways. This may reduce your chance of getting a cold, flu or other illness.”
SAY GOODBYE TO ALLERGIES
Allergy season varies depending on where you live and what you’re allergic to. But, for most of us, the worst symptoms occur during spring and summer. Exercise in cooler weather, and you’ll experience fewer allergy symptoms, leaving you breathing easier and feeling better.
IT’S EASIER TO STAY HYDRATED
You know you sweat more when it’s hot, but a St. Mary’s University researcher quantified things, finding that warm weather runs (72ºF) accounted for 38% more sweat loss than cool weather runs (46ºF) in his study. All that fluid needs to be replaced. If you’re out for a long run, that means carrying extra liquids with you or stopping for water. In colder weather, you sweat less and require lower fluid intake, making it easier to stay hydrated and feel comfortable during exercise.
YOU’LL GET SOME SUN
Precious vitamin D is hard to come by in the colder months, partly because you’re operating with less sunlight and partly due to our natural inclination to enter a couch-induced hibernation. Exercise outside during daylight hours, and you’ll soak in some sunny vitamin D, which can improve your mood, energy level, immune system and bone health.
YOU’LL MAINTAIN YOUR FITNESS COME SPRING
Take a long winter hiatus, and returning to exercise in the spring will only be more difficult, as muscle mass and cardio gains decrease during time off. Keep moving during the colder months, however, and you won’t experience this drop-off, meaning you’ll be ready to hit the trails, hop on your bike or otherwise enjoy the outdoors without needing to shake off that winter-induced sluggishness.