Winter Walking: the benefits of exercise in colder weather

Walking is one of the easiest ways to get more active, become healthier and lose weight. We discuss the benefits of walking and the importance of keeping active during the current UK lockdown.

We can’t afford to hibernate over the winter, it is important to maintain an active lifestyle and reduce the likelihood of deconditioning our bodies. Walking is one of the easiest ways to get more active, become healthier and lose weight. It is free, can be undertaken in a variety of terrains and locations, and is a simple step in starting on a journey towards living a more active lifestyle.

You do not have to walk for hours to notice the benefits either. A brisk 5-10 minute daily walk provides many health benefits and all counts towards your recommended 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week.

For some, even 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week feels unattainable or like you have a mountain to climb. Don’t let this deter you though, you should plan your exercise regime on what works for you and remember: every minute counts, some exercise is always better than none!

 

Top 10 benefits of Winter Walking

 

1. Burn more calories

When it’s cold, your body works harder to maintain your core temperature. You therefore expend more calories in this process. Extra ways of burning calories while walking in winter include: carrying a rucksack, walking on rough ground, using walking poles or wearing heavy boots.

 

2. Sleep better

Going for a brisk daily walk won’t just trim you down, it will also keep you up less often at night. Exercise boosts the effect of natural sleep hormones such as melatonin.

 

3. Cooler temperatures boost your brain

Colder temperatures can help people think more clearly [1]. If you’re struggling to focus whilst working from home or are juggling childcare at the same time, you might benefit from making getting outdoors for a brisk walk an essential part of your day.

 

4. Fight infections

The human immune system can be activated when exposed to the cold [2] and this enhances your ability to fight infections. Practising sport, or walking, in winter can help to reduce your likelihood of contracting illnesses as a result of this.

 

5. Rejuvenate skin

Moderately cold temperatures (5-10 degrees Celsius) can be good for skin’s health because it constrains blood vessels in the skin [3]. This makes the vessels less prone to redness and swelling, as a result of a reduction in blood flow. It can also tighten your cuticles and pores, preventing them from getting clogged. [4]

 

6. Practising sport when it’s cold gives the heart a more intense workout

Experiencing cold weather whilst exercising causes the heart to pump more oxygenated blood around your body. This helps to ensure that the body maintains an appropriate warm temperature, avoids any risks from a drop in temperature and can also be caused in reaction to the increased physical activity itself. [5]

 

7. Assist in maintaining a healthy weight

Studies have shown that people who regularly walk briskly for half an hour, five days a week, were likely to have a lower body mass index (BMI) than people who are less active [6].

 

8. Reduce stress

Being outdoors can increase the stress-busting effect, as well as benefiting from breathing in more oxygenated fresh air. Sunlight and increased blood flow in our brains can boost our production levels of chemicals like serotonin and endorphins, which can improve well-being and mood. Research has also shown that walking outdoors can have a ‘restorative’ property on our mental health, helping to create a break away from regular routine and lead our minds away from stressful situations [7].

 

9. Camaraderie

Walking doesn’t have to be a solo hobby. Going for a stroll with a friend, or in a group, can also be a social activity and an opportunity to catch up with peers, as well as a great form of exercise.

 

10. Range of other health benefits

The list is virtually endless when it comes to the benefits of walking, particularly during the darker and colder winter months where a focus on mental wellbeing in just as important as the physical benefits. Walking is a form of weight-bearing exercise (because you carry your own body weight) which can help reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, improve high blood pressure, regulate cholesterol, improve balance, strengthen bones, increase muscle strength and endurance, reduce the risk of diabetes, improve cardiovascular and pulmonary (heart and lung) fitness, and also help to manage joint and muscular pain. [8]

 

Discover more tips about getting started or changing up your walking routine on the NHS Live Well website

 

 

Whilst many of us are in lockdown and currently restricted, now is the perfect opportunity to make those walks really count and enjoy great health benefits.

Whether you’re doing a circuit of your neighbourhood or have fields, trails or woods on your doorstep, getting out and about every day is an essential part of staying well.

Walking is a great time for thinking, planning, problem-solving and being aware of the environment around you. 

It’s amazing how much more positive I have felt even after just a short walk! 

– Kathryn Gough, Business Development Manager at Connect Health

 

 

Further reading

Re-conditioning after lockdown

Fitness Wellbeing

Sleep Health

Healthy Eating

Cholesterol

 

[1] https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/(SICI)1099-0720(199912)13:6%3C561::AID-ACP661%3E3.0.CO;2-J

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8925815

[3] https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/out-in-the-cold

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4337418/

[5] https://www.healtheuniversity.ca/EN/CardiacCollege/Active/Exercise_And_Cold_Weather/Pages/heart-disease-and-cold-weather.aspx

[6] https://www.nhs.uk/news/lifestyle-and-exercise/is-a-brisk-walk-better-for-losing-weight-than-going-to-the-gym/

[7] https://www.stress.org/how-being-outdoors-and-getting-active-impacts-stress-management

[8] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/829884/3-physical-activity-for-adults-and-older-adults.pdf