Some people see the beginning of winter as their cue to get out of the house and partake in outdoor winter activities – they can’t wait for the chance to go skiing, snowboarding, or ice skating.
Many others, however, would prefer to do the opposite – curl up inside a warm house with a blanket and a mug of hot chocolate.
There’s plenty of time during the winter to accommodate both types of people, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with enjoying the coziness of a warm house on a cold day, but if your family always tends to prefer snuggling by the fireplace or heater to outdoor activities most of the time, you may want to consider changing some of your habits so that you can reap the health benefits of outdoor winter activities.
Get Away From Indoor Germs
Sure, you probably grew up hearing an adult warn you that you’d catch a cold if you stayed out too long in the cold weather. Maybe you’ve even found yourself giving your own children the same warnings. But if you stop to think about it, you’ll realize that this doesn’t make sense.
Colds and other illnesses are caused by bacteria and viruses, not by cold weather. The reason that people tend to get sick during the winter months isn’t because of the cold itself; it’s because of the tendency people have to shut themselves up in their homes or other buildings with other people during the winter months.
Bacteria and viruses thrive in these warm, crowded environments, and when the windows are closed and everyone is avoiding the outdoors, there isn’t much chance of getting away from the germs.
You’re much more likely to catch the flu or a winter cold while you’re inside than while you’re outside in the winter. Cold doesn’t necessarily kill bacteria and viruses, but the lower temperatures do send many of these germs into hibernation.
It’s true that being outside in the cold can cause a runny nose, but this isn’t necessarily a sign of illness – it’s a natural bodily response. The runny nose is your body’s way of expelling bacteria in cold temperatures. As long as it’s not accompanied by any other symptoms, you’re probably fine.
Give Your Metabolism a Boost
Winter weight gain can be a real struggle for many people.
There are a number of reasons why you might gain weight during the winter months – it’s easy to blame it on winter holiday parties and meals that involve high-calorie foods, and this may contribute, but the fact is that holiday celebrations take up only a handful of days out of a whole season.
It’s more likely that winter weight gain is mostly attributable to other factors, like getting less physical activity than you do during warmer months. Plus, even on ordinary winter days, you may be eating more calories – winter meals tend to be heartier and heavier than summer meals.
Not surprisingly, participating in outdoor winter activities can help you control winter weight gain just by increasing your activity level. That’s true whether you’re competing in winter sports, helping your kids build a snowman, or just taking a walk.
But what may surprise you is that the temperature itself can also help by giving your metabolism a boost. Studies show that people who are exposed to cold temperatures have faster resting metabolisms than people who spend all their time in warm climates.
This means that getting out of the house and into the cold weather may help you burn off those winter calories faster.
Bring Your Spirits Up
The winter months can have a real negative effect on your mood. Some people suffer from SAD (seasonal affective disorder) which is a type of depression that occurs only during a specific season, often (but not always) winter.
But even people who don’t suffer from depression can find themselves feeling down or suffering from holiday blues or winter blues, and some people who suffer from depression year-round may notice that their symptoms are more pronounced or more difficult to manage during this time of year.
There’s no one reason why people become depressed or feel down during the winter months. It’s often a combination of factors – the winter holidays are a lonely time for some people, while others are unusually stressed or busy during this time of year.
Financial pressures may worsen during the winter, either because of the holidays, because the end of the year is approaching, or because of expenses associated with simply staying warm when the temperatures drop. And of course, depression can have both chemical and physiological causes as well.
But getting out and participating in outdoor activities might lift your spirits, whether you’re suffering from a form of depression or just from winter blues.
People tend to get less exposure to sunlight when the weather is cold, but sun exposure is important because it gives you vitamin D, which helps regulate serotonin levels in your brain. Serotonin helps control the mood and emotions, so serotonin regulation is important for helping you feel happier.
What’s more, exercise causes your brain to release endorphins, which also help make you feel happier. So taking part in outdoor winter activities can help boost your mood in at least two different ways.
Use Different Muscles
If you live in a climate that’s not cold year-round, the winter season can provide an opportunity to do things differently and see things in a different way.
Just walking to work or school can use different muscles when you have to wade through snow than when the sun is out and the sidewalks are clear. Winter sports often use different muscles than summer sports – skiing or snowshoeing is a whole different experience than bike riding or swimming, for example.
What’s more, navigating snow and ice can require you to think differently than you do in warmer months.
These are different obstacles than you deal with for most of the year, after all. Not only do you move differently in the winter, but you also have to think differently too. And just like it’s good for you to exercise different parts of your body, it’s also good for you to utilize your ability to problem-solve and think in different ways.
Spending time out in the winter weather can help you change your whole perspective.
You don’t have to spend every waking hour of your winter outside, but it’s definitely a good idea for you to make it a point to get out of the house and enjoy your winter.
You might be surprised at the benefits you receive if you make the effort to make outdoor winter activities a regular part of your day.
Dr. Nalin is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, and Founder and Executive Director of Paradigm Treatment Centers, who has been a respected leader in the field of adolescent mental health for more than 20 years. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Southern California, his Master’s degree from Loyola Marymount University, his Doctoral degree from Pacific University’s APA approved Clinical Psychology program, and completed his training at the University of California, San Diego’s APA approved psychology internship program.
Dr. Nalin has provided training and mentoring to students entering the field of psychology at institutions of learning including Pepperdine University’s Graduate School of Education and Psychology, UCSD, Pacific University, and Santa Monica College. He was also instrumental in the development of the treatment component of Los Angeles County’s first Juvenile Drug Court, which now serves as a national model.
Dr. Nalin has appeared as an expert on shows ranging from CBS News and Larry King, to CNN, The Today Show and MTV. He was also featured in an Anti-Drug Campaign for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).
Dr. Nalin is a Diplomate of the National Institute of Sports Professionals and a Certified Sports Psychologist as well as a Certified Chemical Dependency Intervention Specialist. He lectures and conducts workshops nationally on the issues of teen mental health, substance abuse prevention, and innovative adolescence treatment.
In 2017 Dr. Nalin was awarded The Sigmund Freud Foundation and Sigmund Freud University’s Distinguished Achievement Award in recognition of his work with youth in the field of mental health over the course of his career.