3 health benefits of walking in winter

January 29, 2016, 6 a.m.
A frozen river with swans and ducks.
Photo: naipung/Shutterstock

Though many of us are tempted to stay inside curled up on the couch with hot cocoa during the cold winter weather, there are health benefits to bundling up and heading outside for a long walk instead.

Sunlight for strong bones

Vitamin D is an important part of keeping bones strong, and not getting outside means decreased production in our bodies. According to Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare, "Getting just 15 minutes of sun on your face and hands two to three times per week should suffice for getting enough sun for vitamin D production. Sun exposure triggers vitamin D production in the skin, and bones need vitamin D to make the body absorb bone-strengthening calcium properly." So be sure to take advantage of every sunny winter day and go for a walk.

Boost your mood

The winter doldrums are all too common when the days are shorter, the weather is colder and we feel compelled to stay inside. Exercise helps counter this mild depression, releasing endorphins that pick up your mood. So, it's extra important to walk in winter to chase away the blues, and even short walks can make a difference.

LiveStrong writes, "Many people think that you must exercise an exorbitant amount of time to trigger endorphin release; however, moderate amounts of exercise lasting 20 to 30 minutes can cause endorphin release. In fact, if you are new to exercising, you may experience stronger effects of endorphins than someone who has regularly been exercising, since your brain is not used to the endorphin rush."

Burn extra calories

There are a couple ways that walking in winter may help you burn extra calories and stay fit.

Being cold helps you burn more calories as the body has to work harder to maintain your core temperature. The Atlantic writes, "In the journal Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism, scientists from Maastricht University in The Netherlands argue that when exercise isn't an option, 'regular exposure to mild cold may provide a healthy and sustainable alternative strategy for increasing energy expenditure.'" So, just going out for a stroll in cold winter weather may be a way to boost your body's calorie-burning abilities as your body is working to keep you warm as well as keep you moving.

Prevention notes that according to Alan Mikesky, PhD, director of the human performance and biomechanics laboratory at Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis, "The invigorating cold air can clear your mind and reduce stress, which can be helpful for weight loss... Even if you have to walk slower because of the weather, you may be burning more calories. And trudging through snow or walking into the wind takes more energy."

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Jaymi Heimbuch is a writer and photographer at Mother Nature Network. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.