5 reasons to exercise outdoors this winter

Winter may have you wistfully wishing for better weather if it's cold, snowy, gray or rainy where you live. You may find yourself holed up at home, longing for better days to enjoy the outdoors.

But if you tend to take the winter off when it comes to outdoor exercise, remember this: It doesn't have to be a gorgeous, sunny day to get out more. There are plenty of reasons to get outside right now, no matter what your weather's like.

Use these tips from Edward R. Laskowski, M.D., a Mayo Clinic sports medicine physician, as inspiration to head outdoors this winter. He takes this advice to heart, even opting to snowshoe on below-zero days and walk in the rain.

Here are 5 reasons Dr. Laskowski says it's worth the effort to leave your house to move your body.

1. Improve your mood

Winter can be a tough time of year for the mind and emotions. Moving outdoors can help you feel better about yourself and be more confident. It can also lessen tension, anxiety and depression.

Research shows that people who exercise in natural areas with lots of trees are less likely to have poor mental health. Being active in nature seems to quiet the part of your brain that gets stuck on sad or negative thoughts. Experts use the term "rumination" to describe this thought cycle. Too much time in rumination raises your risk of depression.

2. Give your brain a boost

Feel like your memory isn't as good as it could be? Could your attention span use a boost? Try going outside. Being active in nature boosts neural connections. This helps your brain work at peak performance.

Busy urban settings demand a lot of your brain. Natural environments kick-start a re-energizing sort of attention. There's a sense of fascination or even of escape from day-to-day life. This may be why people tend to focus better after being in nature.

3. Help your heart

Moving more in nature has been linked to a host of positive health benefits, especially when it comes to your heart.

People who spend time in nature have a higher heart rate variability. This is linked to a lower risk of heart disease. Scientists think that nature may help the heart relax during exercise in a way that other environments don't.

For people who already have heart disease, exercising outdoors also offers benefits. It seems to lower blood pressure and resting heart rate even more than indoor exercise does.

4. You can do it solo

In these times of social distancing, winter activities offer abundant opportunities to be active without being in a crowd of people. Hiking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are just a few examples. Even a simple walk in your neighborhood can be enjoyable in the winter.

5. Winter only comes once a year

Outside of its many health benefits, outdoor exercise — particularly in the winter — offers many experiences you won't have during other times of the year. Every season offers something unique that you won't see during other times of year, whether it's a change in the landscape or the appearance of certain wildlife.

Plus, getting outdoors may actually make winter seem to pass by more quickly.

  1. Laskowski ER (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic. Aug. 28, 2020.
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