3 benefits of exercising outside in cold weather

caption arrowCaption
When the temperature drops, your first instinct might be to head indoors to exercise. But there are benefits to being outside during the winter. Studies show exercising outside in winter increases calorie-burning brown fat and raises your metabolism. Daily doses of sunshine increase your vitamin D levels and help combat seasonal affective disorder. Exercising in the cold can make a healthy heart even stronger.

Just because the temperature has dropped doesn’t mean you have to work out indoors

When the temperature drops, many people head indoors to exercise.

Yes, it’s warmer in your house, but there are little-known health benefits to exercising in cold weather.

Explore3 ways to test your heart health at home

Burn more calories

Research shows daily exposure to cold increases a body’s volume of brown adipose tissue, or brown fat. But isn’t fat a bad thing? It depends. Unlike white fat, which stores calories, brown fat burns them.

A 2014 study found the cold not only makes brown fat more active, it also could cause you to increase your brown-fat cells.

"Browning fat tissue would be an excellent defense against obesity. It would result in the body burning extra calories rather than converting them into additional fat tissue," Philip A. Kern, who authored the study, said in a release.

"Similarly to exercise training, we advocate temperature training," the researchers said. "More-frequent cold exposure alone will not save the world, but is a serious factor to consider in creating a sustainable environment together with a healthy lifestyle."

ExplorePhysical activity at any intensity will help you live longer, study finds

Boost vitamin D and combat SAD

The shorter days of winter and lower temperatures can contribute not only to vitamin D deficiencies, but also to developing seasonal affective disorder.

One recommendation to treat SAD is a light therapy box, which mimics sunlight. But light boxes can’t boost your vitamin D intake. Exercising outdoors, even if it’s just going for a walk, can serve both the vitamin and fitness boost.

ExploreStudy: A morning walk can lower blood pressure as well as meds can

Strengthen your cardiovascular system

According to a study by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, outdoor exercise could decrease your risk of dying from cardiovascular disease by up to 27 percent, CNN reported.

Exercising in cold weather challenges your body further and can help strengthen a healthy heart. The opposite holds true for individuals with heart problems, however.

Because the cold forces your heart to work harder, an unhealthy heart might struggle to pump blood through your body. A 2018 study published in the journal JAMA Cardiology found a higher incidence of heart attacks on days with lower temperatures and higher winds.

ExploreStudy: Exercise improves memory, boosts blood flow to brain

Any exercise is better than none at all, but being outdoors when there is a chill in the air can boost the benefits of your workout.

About the Author

Editors' Picks