Why Winter Exercise Is Important For Maintaining Physical and Mental Health

Why Winter Exercise Is Important For Maintaining Physical and Mental Health
Exercise improves physical health, immunity, and can reduce fatigue.
Maridav/ Shutterstock

As winter descends on the northern hemisphere and the temperature drops and daylight hours shorten, many people may want to spend more time indoors. And those of us under lockdown for the second time may feel even less inclined to get outside and exercise. But staying indoors may have unintended health consequences, due to both a lack of physical activity and exposure to daylight.

Being physically active all year long has many benefits to both physical and mental health. Exercise may even counter some of the negative effects winter weather can have on our energy levels and mood.

Research shows people exercise for an average of eight minutes less during the cooler months. People also drop other activities they do during warmer months, such as active travelling. Light intensity activity (such as slow walking and housework) is shown to decrease during the winter, while time spent sitting and sleeping increased.

But, despite decreases in light intensity activity and sleeping more, researchers did not find any differences in terms of sleep quality, nor did it find a drop in moderate and vigorous activities – such as planned exercise classes or walking the dog – which people still did, despite the weather. A pre-print (not yet peer-reviewed) study also suggests that activity levels were lower during the first spring lockdown. This could mean people may be even less active this winter.

There are many reasons we may lose our motivation to exercise during the winter months. In the winter, low levels of ambient light coupled with shorter days reduces exposure to vitamin D. This causes us to feel tired or fatigued. People often experience disrupted sleep during winter months as well, further contributing to low energy levels.

Seasonal mood disturbances may also make it difficult to find the motivation to get up and move. Many people (particularly women) experience low mood as the weather gets colder. Some even develop mental health disorders such as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), in which a person experiences symptoms of depression during the winter months.

The reasons why we exercise can also affect our motivation levels. For example, motivation is shown to waver if the primary focus of our exercise is on improving health and body image, rather than exercising for enjoyment and accomplishment. Research also shows that people who exercise outdoors all year round are better at finding the time to stick to their routine, and are more motivated by their enjoyment, or the challenge of their exercise compared too those who are only active during warmer months. So it’s easy to see how a person’s mood can lead to a more sedentary lifestyle.

Exercise benefits

The benefits of engaging in regular physical activity are widely reported for physical health – including reductions in weight, coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, strokes and certain types of cancer. It’s also associated with greater immune function.

Physical activity is also important for wellbeing. It’s been shown to reduce fatigue and enhance job satisfaction), optimism, self-esteem and better stress management. Exercise can also be used effectively to treat mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety SAD, and promotes positive mood.

Though winter weather might not always allow it, exercising outdoors is also great at reducing mental fatigue and stress, improving wellbeing, life satisfaction and happiness. Adolescents in particular benefit mentally from being in natural spaces. Blue spaces – such as coastal regions and inland waterways – also have similar restorative benefits for mental health.

Exercising in nature is beneficial for mental health.Exercising in nature is beneficial for mental health. Monkey Business Images/ Shutterstock

Outdoor exercise also provides more opportunities for social interaction, which, if allowed, is important for our health and wellbeing during this winter lockdown. Exercising outdoors in natural light is also linked to improvements in sleep quality, physical health and wellbeing.

To achieve these mental and physical benefits, it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough exercise. The UK’s NHS recommends a weekly health target of 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity (or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity), which can easily be broken down into smaller chunks of ten minutes throughout the week. Moderate activity is enough to raise your heart rate, make you feel warmer and breathe faster. An easy way to tell is that you can still talk but find it difficult to sing. Two days of the week should also focus on strengthening activities.

Though it can sometimes be hard to find the motivation to exercise, carrying an activity monitor (wearable accelerometer) or phone app that records activity (such as step count) can motivate and enable people to set and achieve goals. Committing to activity can also be easier if you have someone to exercise with. Increasing the challenge – such as the number of activity sessions, the intensity (such as walking speed or weight lifted) or the time spent in each session – can also increase fitness and strength.

Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to be active during the winter. In addition to sport and forms of exercise, taking active transport (walking and cycling to work or school), or doing chores will all contribute. Of most importance is to break up time sitting with movement and activity outside, in daylight, to ensure you profit from the additional health benefits.

About the Authors

Ruth Lowry, Reader in Exercise Psychology, University of Essex and Jo Barton, Senior Lecturer in Sports and Exercise Science, University of Essex

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

You May Also Like

AVAILABLE LANGUAGES

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeeliwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptroruesswsvthtrukurvi

INNERSELF VOICES

happy woman 's face
How To Experience A Mystical State of Consciousness
by Ora Nadrich
Whatever it is we seek pleasure from, relying on external things to give us the high or a feeling…
a blurred clock expanding over a starry background
Horoscope Current Week: December 6 - 12, 2021
by Pam Younghans
This weekly astrological journal is based on planetary influences, and offers perspectives and…
12 05 from rigidity to change 647528 complete
From Rigidity to Change
by Marie T. Russell, InnerSelf.com
In order for things, or people, to change they need to be flexible. A willow tree bends in the wind…
man and dog in front of giant sequoia trees in California
The Art of Constant Wonder: Thank you, Life, for this day
by Pierre Pradervand
One of the greatest secrets of life is to know how to constantly marvel at existence and at the…
Photo: Total Solar Eclipse on August 21, 2017.
Horoscope: Week of November 29 - December 5, 2021
by Pam Younghans
This weekly astrological journal is based on planetary influences, and offers perspectives and…
young boy looking through binoculars
The Power of Five: Five Weeks, Five Months, Five Years
by Shelly Tygielski
At times, we have to let go of what is to make room for what will be. Of course, the very idea of…
man eating fast food
It's Not About the Food: Overeating, Addictions, and Emotions
by Jude Bijou
What if I told you a new diet called the "It's Not About the Food" is gaining popularity and…
woman dancing in the middle of an empty highway with a city skyline in the background
Having the Courage to Be True to Ourselves
by Marie T. Russell, InnerSelf.com
Each one of us is a unique individual, and thus it seems to follow that each one of us has a…
Animal Perspectives on the Corona Virus
Animal Perspectives on the Corona Virus
by Nancy Windheart
In this post, I share a few of the communications and transmissions from some of the non-human…
Inside Out and Back to Front As We Cross Into The Aquarian Age
Inside Out and Back to Front As We Cross Into The Aquarian Age
by Sarah Varcas
Welcome to the next major astrological event to shape our lives, ourselves and our world.…
How Old Would You Be If You Didn’t Know Your Age?
How Old Would You Be If You Didn’t Know Your Age?
by Barbara Berger
How old would you be if you didn't know your age? It’s an interesting thought isn’t it? Why not…

Selected for InnerSelf Magazine

MOST READ

How Living On The Coast Is Linked To Poor Health
How Living On The Coast Is Linked To Poor Health
by Jackie Cassell, Professor of Primary Care Epidemiology, Honorary Consultant in Public Health, Brighton and Sussex Medical School
The precarious economies of many traditional seaside towns have declined still further since the…
The Most Common Issues for Earth Angels: Love, Fear, and Trust
The Most Common Issues for Earth Angels: Love, Fear, and Trust
by Sonja Grace
As you experience being an earth angel, you will discover that the path of service is riddled with…
How Can I Know What's Best For Me?
How Can I Know What's Best For Me?
by Barbara Berger
One of the biggest things I've discovered working with clients everyday is how extremely difficult…
Honesty: The Only Hope for New Relationships
Honesty: The Only Hope for New Relationships
by Susan Campbell, Ph.D.
According to most of the singles I have met in my travels, the typical dating situation is fraught…
An Astrologer introduces the Nine Dangers of Astrology
An Astrologer introduces the Nine Dangers of Astrology
by Tracy Marks
Astrology is a powerful art, capable of enhancing our lives by enabling us to understand our own…
Giving Up All Hope Could Be Beneficial For You
Giving Up All Hope Could Be Beneficial For You
by Jude Bijou, M.A., M.F.T.
If you're waiting for a change and frustrated it's not happening, maybe it would be beneficial to…
Chakra Healing Therapy: Dancing toward the Inner Champion
Chakra Healing Therapy: Dancing toward the Inner Champion
by Glen Park
Flamenco dancing is a delight to watch. A good flamenco dancer exudes an exuberant self-confidence…
Taking A Step Toward Peace by Changing Our Relationship With Thought
Stepping Toward Peace by Changing Our Relationship With Thought
by John Ptacek
We spend our lives immersed in a flood of thoughts, unaware that another dimension of consciousness…

New Attitudes - New Possibilities

InnerSelf.comClimateImpactNews.com | InnerPower.net
MightyNatural.com | WholisticPolitics.com | InnerSelf Market
Copyright ©1985 - 2021 InnerSelf Publications. All Rights Reserved.