Fight back, get fit and beat winter!
Author: Kate Cross
Exercising in the cold comes with health risks. Injury and, in some cases hypothermia, can be unwelcomed consequences of cool-weather workouts. But, perhaps an even greater problem is the tendency not to exercise at all when the temperature plummets.
“In general, the biggest trend we … see is that people tend to exercise less in the winter months because it’s colder and harder to get motivated,” says Physiotherapist and Clinical Pilates Instructor Michael Dermansky.
Indeed, UK research published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise in 2016 shows that kids' physical activity habits drop from a peak of 65 minutes per day in spring to 48 minutes in winter. A similar tendency can be seen among adults with a 2011 Gallup-Healthways Wellbeing Index showing that “Americans typically exercise more in the spring and summer and less in [autumn] and winter”.
“The result,” according to Mr Dermansky “is reduced fitness and strength and a resurgence of ‘energy’ in spring … to get ready for summer”.
“This is when injuries occur; when there has been a loss of strength and fitness in winter and over-activity in spring,” he says.
Surprising reasons to love winter exercise
Exercise Physiologist Jonathan Freeman says exercising in cold, wet conditions can have health risks, such as muscle strains and ligaments injuries, “especially if you’re not warmed up properly”.
But, he adds, these risks are “most definitely not” reasons to forgo exercise altogether, citing improved immunity among the countless benefits of keeping active.
As for exercising in the cold, healthy exposure to sunshine and, perhaps surprisingly, increased endurance, may be among the advantages, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
“In colder temperatures your heart doesn't have to work as hard, you sweat less, and expend less energy, all of which means you can exercise more efficiently,” says sports medicine physician Dr Adam Tenforde for Harvard Health.
For those eager to shift a few kilos, Harvard adds: “Studies also have shown that exercising in cold weather can transform white fat, specifically belly and thigh fat, into calorie-burning brown fat.”
Of course, safety must come first
According to Mayo Clinic, this means checking the weather forecast and delaying or relocating your workout if conditions aren’t safe. If you have a health problem that places you at risk, such as asthma, Raynaud's disease or heart issues, consult your doc before exercising in the cold too, it adds.
Dressing in layers, ensuring the soles of your shoes have good grip, staying hydrated and getting on top of injuries early are also important, says Mr Dermansky.
And warming up properly before exercise is a must, adds Mr Freeman.
Whether you choose to do your workouts outside or sweat up a storm inside, Mr Dermansky advice for the cooler months is to “build up your base of strength in preparation for the warmer months”.
This means working on your back and core muscles, glutes, quads, calf muscles and shoulder blade stabilisers, he says, adding “strength training two to three times a week is ideal” and can be done with weights or your own bodyweight, with the help of an exercise professional, if necessary.
“If it’s been a long time since you have exercised, take the workout slowly and steadily increase your workload as your body is able to adapt,” he adds.