Why Outdoor Fitness Makes Sense All Year Round
Many of us love taking advantage of the warmer months to get outside for our workouts. We enjoy the fresh air, the closeness to nature and the socially connected feeling parks and public nature spaces give us. But as summer comes to a close we tend to creep back into our homes or into gyms, avoiding the discomfort of being cold. We no longer get the added benefit of being outside for our workouts. It’s natural that we want to avoid the discomfort of the colder months. After all, we are wired to chase pleasure and avoid pain. It’s a survival thing. But, sometimes this leads us to miss out on things that are good for us, despite them being uncomfortable at the start. A great example is having a cold shower after an intense workout, which can help reduce muscle soreness.
Even if you feel cold initially, you won’t for long. Once your body has warmed up, you won’t feel cold until you cool down afterwards and you’ll likely be home already by the time that happens! You’ve just got to get out there and start so you can have a rejuvenating and invigorating outdoor training session. This article is going to show you why it’s indeed worth getting outside for your workouts.
Here are some of the benefits of outdoor fitness
Exercising in nature has the effect of boosting our immune system. The natural chemicals in fresh air include Phytoncides which come from plants. These have antibacterial and antifungal qualities. Inhaling these increases lymphocytes activity in our bodies. Also known as natural killer cells, lymphocytes help fight disease and infection, thus boosting the immune system.
If you’re wondering how to boost your mood, outdoor workouts are a quick way to boost your mood instantly (yes, even more than working out inside). Outdoor fitness boosts your mood because of the fresh air, natural light and proximity to nature. Natural light is an effective mood booster because when our brains register it it triggers the production of serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that plays a vital role in regulating our emotional wellbeing. Also, in nature we feel less alone and instead part of something much bigger and miraculous than we see ourselves. There is an abundance of research that shows that proximity to natural spaces increases cognitive function and reduces stress. You might as well reap these benefits while you workout! We all love efficiency after all. There is even evidence that shows that seeing the colour green in nature alone has a positive effect on our mental health.
Burns more Calories
Our body works hard to maintain our core body temperature, especially in cold temperatures. All the body’s processes, including this one, require energy and calories. One of the processes that burns calories is shivering. These involuntary muscular contractions burn calories like anything else our bodies do. When you train outside in cold weather, you’re burning calories from both your workout and keeping yourself warm. This is also one of the benefits of cold water immersion which we can learn more about by clicking the link in the introduction to our blog post on cold water immersion. An important note is that this is only until your body has warmed up properly. Once you no longer feel cold this extra calorie burning effect does subside. Also, burning calories isn’t the same as burning fat. And while there’s evidence to show cold conditions lead your body to burn more calories, there’s also research that shows the cold leads the body to hold onto fat! This happens because the body slows the process of fat oxidation. After all, historically food shortages in the winter were a very real risk and our bodies just want to keep us alive. However, considering the plethora of benefits to training outdoors it is arguably still well worth it.
Increasing resilience to discomfort is good for mental health
Resilience to discomfort is like a muscle. If we use it, meaning if we give ourselves the opportunity to be uncomfortable, our resilience to it increases. If we are always avoiding discomfort our resilience to it decreases. And in turn, we suffer more. Because physical and emotional discomfort in life is inevitable. We might as well exercise our resilience so that we can suffer less. Outdoor fitness in cold weather is an incredibly easy and accessible way to do this. Meditation works in a similar way. When we train ourselves to sit through our uncomfortable feelings and emotions (instead of running from them by distracting ourselves with thoughts and activities) in the name of mindfulness and presence, we increase our resilience to our internal discomfort. We become less reactive. This can change the way we experience life completely. We have a blog post all about the benefits of meditating as a wellness practice
Is it dangerous to workout outdoors all year?
Depending on how extreme the weather conditions get where you live there are some precautions you’ll want to take such as avoiding outdoor fitness if it is icy or slippery.
In colder conditions, it can take a little more to get your body warm. Warming up your body before a training session is extremely important because without doing so your muscles are vulnerable to tears and your joints are vulnerable to injury. You can think of your muscles like blu-tack. Blu-tack needs to be warmed up first. It becomes stringy and stretchy when you warm it up. When it’s not warm, it breaks easily. Muscles are like this. And joints need to be lubricated to move safely without injury. Our joints contain something called synovial fluid – our bodies’ natural joint lubrication.
I love to compare synovial fluid to coconut oil. When it’s not warm, it’s hard and doesn’t move around. When it’s warm it’s liquid and moves around easily. So, if your joints are not warm, your joints are not lubricated. So, when doing outdoor fitness make sure you get yourself properly warm before you start your workout. You want to choose movements that take your joints through their full range of motion to ensure they are properly lubricated and that your muscles are fully stretched. Some of my favourite warm up movements for doing this are:
Lunge matrix: front lunge, side lunge, curtsy lunge, reverse lunge and so on. This moves our hips and knees in various ranges of motion.
‘The world’s best stretch’: this is a great stretch for our hips and torso especially.
Standing chest openers and arm circles: to make sure we don’t miss our upper body area which can be especially tight when we have jobs that require us to sit still for most of the day!
Outdoor fitness in cold weather is certainly beneficial for most of us up to a certain point. However, below a certain temperature the cold weather may actually suppress our immune system and make us more susceptible to bacteria and viruses. This blog post by runners world showed that shivering before a cold weather workout may actually boost immune system response but below certain temperatures your immune response may actually be suppressed. So beware of extreme weather conditions.
In short, excluding harsh weather conditions it is rare that it will be dangerous to workout outside at any point in the year. Its benefits, however, are undeniable. So, with mindfulness and proper precaution it’s worth the little extra effort. And once you’re in the habit, it won’t require extra effort at all!
Why outdoor fitness does make sense all year round
Outdoor fitness is worth committing to year round. It causes us to spend more time in nature. So many of us feel lonely and blue in the winter. Working from home causes us to feel more isolated. And also many of us work in conditions without much natural light. We can easily feel too busy to really meet our basic health and wellbeing needs. Getting outside for our workouts is a way to supplement all of this. As well as vital nature time, getting outside in cold weather has unique physical and mental health benefits. Working similarly to meditation it increases our resilience to being uncomfortable and makes us happier overall. It also boosts our metabolism and immunity! Of course, there are times you’ll want to take extra precautions or stay inside if it is especially cold, dark or slippery. But don’t let those days break your healthy and nourishing habit of getting outside for your fitness needs no matter the season. The benefits are too good to miss.
Written By Bea: Female fitness expert at MotivatePT – Reps Level 3 Qualified / Pre & Post Natal