As the year turns colder, wetter and darker, many of us put our walking gear away till the spring. But research shows there are some great health benefits to winter walking. So, dig out your boots and step out into the wind and rain – your body will thank you for it!
It can be tough to find the motivation to get outside in the winter months. Less daylight, nippy air, plus time pressures in the build-up to Christmas mean we often put our good habits on the back burner.
In the winter, it’s tempting to stick to hot yoga, Pilates or a sweat-inducing spin class. However, you can reap some surprising health benefits by including a bracing walk in the wintry weather.
Here are five reasons why winter walking might be one of the best and simplest ways to stay in good health.
1. There’s less air pollution in wet weather
As raindrops fall through the atmosphere, they attract particles to their surface. This effectively filters out atmospheric pollutants, naturally cleaning the air. In fact, heavy rain has been shown to reduce air pollution by up to 30%.
If you live in an urban area, then, the ideal time to head out for a walk is just after a downpour.
2. Winter walking can build resilience
Heading out into the teeth of a biting wind or driving rain can be as much of a mental battle as a physical one. Facing up to the challenge of bad weather and doing it anyway can foster a spirit of perseverance, adaptability and resilience. And it’s rewarded by feelings of accomplishment (and a hot cup of tea!).
3. Cold weather boosts immunity
We often associate cold weather with illnesses and infections. But you might be surprised to learn that one benefit of winter walking is a boost to your immune system.
Cold exposure has been shown to increase production of white blood cells, part of our body’s network of defences. So, although it’s a good idea to dress warmly, a little chilliness can be an invigorating thing.
And don’t avoid those muddy patches, either. Researchers have determined that the microbes present in mud can help us develop a more diverse microbiome and strengthen our immune system. Time to don those wellies!
4. Winter exercising can benefit health
We know that exercise improves health in so many ways. It helps manage the pain of conditions such as arthritis, it keeps our heart, muscles and joints functioning well, and it benefits our mental health.
But getting outside to exercise in the winter can be especially beneficial.
The fat content in our bodies can be divided into two types. White fat collects around our organs, clogs our arteries, and can contribute to poor health.
Brown fat, meanwhile, provides energy and heat by breaking down blood sugar and burning white fat. And cold temperatures activate brown fat cells. Researchers think this might be a potential treatment for both obesity and metabolic disorders.
In addition, walking after a meal can modulate our blood sugar, keeping levels on an even keel, as well as promoting digestive function.
Plus, being outdoors as the light fades triggers the production of melatonin, the hormone that prepares us for sleep.
So instead of heading to the sofa after dinner, try pulling on your walking shoes and heading out into the evening for a stroll.
5. Rain can lift your mood
Have you ever wondered why the air smells sweet after a rain shower? The pummelling of raindrops on porous surfaces, such as leaves, stone and soil, causes them to release pleasant-smelling molecules, which have been shown to lift the mood. This lovely, loamy scent is known as ‘petrichor’.
And, beyond its mood-boosting capabilities, rain also produces negative ions in the air which strengthen immunity and increase lung capacity.
Enjoy the benefits of winter walking
So don’t hibernate indoors in the wet and windy weather – pull on your walking gear and embrace the elements! Your brain and body will reap the benefits.