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Some exercise time outdoors in winter can be beneficial

 Young athletic woman doing stretching exercise and preparing for sports training during winter.
Young athletic woman doing stretching exercise and preparing for sports training during winter.

How  does outdoor exercising in winter help with endurance?

Studies have been done that look at the efficiency of exercise and cardiac output based on how much energy you have to spend to do what you need to do and believe it or not. And that's actually a more efficient process. The cooler you get up to a point.

But cross-country skiers are where the study was mostly done, and it showed that somewhere around 32 to 34 degrees Fahrenheit, the body operates most efficiently.

Probably why that happens is colder weather stimulates your body to change white fat to brown fat, and brown fat can be burned for calories. White fat doesn't really do that.

And so exercising in the winter will actually make it easier for you to lose that fat around your belly in your thighs.

This doesn't work as well in summer?

In warmer temperatures, your body doesn't have that stimulus to convert those fat types over winter.

Outdoor winter exercise can also be good for metabolism?

Similar concept to endurance, meaning your body is just more efficient in the colder weather. And so any kind of exercise helps increase your metabolism.

When people go into hibernation mode in the winter, that tends to slow things down. And that's why people have this winter weight gain. You know, part of it is the holidays and the food's good, you're socializing and that. But the other part of it is people's natural indication in the winter is just to kind of be less active. So, when you are less active, your body tends to slow down your metabolism and hold on to those calories.

If you can combat that by getting out and being active, then that metabolism level stays high enough to where you're still turning things over.

You're an orthopedist. Do you encounter questions about this among your patients?

A lot of them have questions about how the weather will affect their joints. My response to that is in orthopedics, we say motion is lotion for stiff joints because your cartilage cells need the joint fluid to circulate around those joints for their metabolism. They don't have blood vessels providing them nutrients and taking away all of the expenditures of metabolism.

And so the joint fluid is what does that. And if you're moving, you're getting fresh, healthy, joint fluid of those cartilage cells, and that'll help stave off the stiffness from arthritis that would otherwise set in.

Cold weather is often used, though, as an excuse not to exercise. And you're basically saying that's a bad thing?

It is a bad thing. Not only does it help with efficiency and weight issues, but it also helps your mental attitude.

You know, there's such a thing as seasonal affective disorder, and that's real and legitimate. The best way to combat that is to get outside and be active and moving.

You get endorphins from exercising, and those endorphins can help that mood boost to get you out of that depressive state. And so it's probably more important to do that in the winter than it is in the summer for a lot of people.

Still, is there a temperature at which outdoor winter exercise is not a good idea?

There is. You've got to use your common sense.

If it's negative ten, then you're out there in shorts and a t-shirt, and you're at risk for frostbite. So when you're exercising outside and it's cold:

  • Dress in layers, so that as you start warming up, you can kind of shed some layers

  • Make sure you have your hands, nose and ears covered and, wear good socks and shoes.
  • Those are the parts of your body that are most susceptible to things like frostbite.


    How to Stay Active Outside When the Weather Gets Colder

    Winter fitness: Safety tips for exercising outdoors

    The Biggest Benefit of Exercising Outside in the Winter

    Benefits of Training in Cold Weather

    Benefits of Cold Weather Exercise

    How Cold Weather Affects the Body During Exercise

    Copyright 2023 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

    Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.