The Advantages of Staying Active in the Cold
By Dr. Molly Casey
The cold can be a significant barrier for many in terms of getting out and staying active. The truth is that for many it can derail solid progress toward health and wellness in your exercise routine. Winter is present for -- at least, in theory -- a quarter of the year. If maintaining your exercise and movement goals is an important part of life, you must determine how to work with the cold, not against it. First understand how the cold can help you in your goals, and second, how to prepare properly for it. Then be on your wintery way.
Get clear for yourself as to your motivating factors -- why are you exercising in the first place? Why is it important to you? What do you feel like when you follow through with your exercise routine? How does it help your body, health and life? The more specific you are, the better these answers will serve you. When it gets a hard look at the specific reasons as to why you’re asking yourself to do it, connect to your purpose. Clarity is the first law of success.
Get clear on the benefits of exercising in the cold weather. When you understand that cold weather exercise offers a different set of benefits, it can be easier to pull from that motivation as well.
Burn more calories - Who doesn’t want that? Your body has to work harder to stabilize its core body temperature; while it is working harder to do so, it requires more calories to do that job. So get out there in the cold times!
Strengthen your heart - Again, who doesn’t want a stronger heart? Your heart has to work harder to pump and distribute blood throughout the body. When you go outside in the colder weather, it’s more difficult from the get-go. When you then add to that the stress of the exercise, it calls the heart to work even harder. If this is done with consistency, the heart gets stronger because it is regularly being called to work more efficiently under healthily stressful situations.
Increase your tolerance - Ask your body to regularly perform under more extreme circumstances, both physically and otherwise; certainly, cold weather fits that bill, and increases the body’s ability to handle and do hard things. Physically, the body can withstand more -- and mentally and emotionally you gain strength as well. It takes grit to exercise regularly in the cold temperatures and do what we don’t actually want to do. There is a mental aspect that we work regularly and this grit translates to every other area of your life. When more focus is required than usual in your daily life, you can use that “toughness muscle” it takes to get up and go out when it is 25 degrees outside. When your body is called on for an unusually lengthy day, you can call on the reserves it takes when pumping out that last one mile of a five-mile run in the 31-degree weather. The grit translates; use it.
Get more Vitamin D - Most of us need more Vitamin D. Natural Vitamin D obtained by spending time in sunlight can feel hard to come by in the winter months. Vitamin D is an essential component of health on many levels in the body from bone health to calcium absorption to optimal mental health and feeling good. Most folks see the sun a whole lot less in the winter time. If you can create runs or exercise outside during the daytime and get 15-20 minutes of sunlight while you’re at it, you’re doing your body and mind a world of good, likely beyond your knowing.
Part of the reason winter exercise seems so daunting is because people don’t prepare properly and they end up cold and miserable. That is an easy fix. Prepare properly and wear appropriate attire. Layer up. You would ideally have moisture wicking fabrics that pull the sweat away from your body. These will help you stay a bit warmer. Examples of this are polyester, wool, and spandex, to name a few, and most sports stores carry plenty of performance wear that is moisture wicking. When you start your exercise, you do want to be a little chilly because your body temperature will rise as you get moving. By starting chilly you allow your body temperature the opportunity to rise without needing to remove other layers. Look at that initial chill as one of the biggest mental components to overcome; by doing so, you’ve jumped an enormous hurdle.
Remember your warm-up and cooldowns. Warm up with stretches in the house and start out light when you get outside so as not to shock your body and ask it to do too much too soon. When you finish, walk it off, do a brisk and gentle slowdown of your exercise, and then ease back into your indoor temperatures. You can end with a few “warm-down” stretches indoors as well. This allows your body proper transition both in and out of the cold.
Don’t let the cold derail your exercise success. Work with it, embrace the challenge of it, and know that this too shall pass as everything does. Understand the benefits that the cold offers in your goals toward better health and improved body performance, and then prepare properly. If you have questions or concerns about exercising in the cold, ask your local doctor at The Joint Chiropractic during your regular adjustments and they’ll help you on your way to maximizing optimal cold weather movement.
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