My road bike has been “tucked in” for the winter. Even with the unusually warm weather in Boulder, I have switched to gym workouts and weekend hikes. And I’m not the only one. Have you tried to find an open treadmill on Monday morning? But, compelling information about the benefits of cold weather exercise is making me think again. Still, the Polar Bear Plunge sounds ludicrous – that’s where I draw the line.

Five Reasons to Get Outside this Winter:

1. Your immune system gets a tune up: We’ve all heard the urban legend “put your coat on or you’ll catch your death of cold.” True, WBC counts skyrocket during exercise but plummet later to below pre-exercise levels. This was once thought to be the sign of a weakened immune system post-exercise. New research indicates that immune cells actually migrate to parts of the body most in need of immune support, resulting in just the right amount of inflammation your body needs to stay healthy. Exercise creates a measured amount of inflammation in the working muscles and tendons and your body learns just how much inflammation or immune response it needs. Immune cells get fine-tuned and we stay healthier during cold and flu season.

2. You’ll keep the weight off: Your body burns more energy just to keep warm when exercising in the cold. (Shivering uses huge numbers of calories). It also regulates its temperature better, so you can keep going longer when it’s 40 degrees than when it’s 90.

3. You’ll Combat Bad Fat: Research by Kajimura’s lab at UCSF shows promising early findings about cold weather exercise. Living and moving in cold climates improves the ratio of beige to white fat. Beige fat is more metabolically active, produces more heat, and creates less inflammation than white fat. The more time you spend in the cold, the more likely you are to produce fat that helps keep you warm and burns rather than stores calories. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, showed people have more genetic markers for brown fat in the winter than during warmer months.

4. Your Heart will be Healthier: Your heart has to work hard to pump warmth to your fingers and toes. According to the American Heart Association, workouts in cold weather are the best kind to strengthen your heart.

 

5. You’ll be Happier: Exposure to sun when the days are short, even for 10 minutes, can make a big difference in overall mood. As you work harder to stay warm, you produce more endorphins, leaving you with a stronger sense of happiness and lightness following a workout in the cold.

If an injury is keeping you from getting outside, call to schedule a physical therapy appointment today. We can help keep you active and having fun through the winter. Who knows – maybe next year I’ll be willing to take the Polar Bear Plunge!

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