Winter lovin’

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It’s easy to crawl back under the covers when the cold sets in, but braving a workout can pay off. So grab your trainers and layer up!

When the temperature drops, many of us tend to reach straight for our thermals and hibernate for as long as we can. But did you know that your desire to shy away from the cold is more psychological than physical? In fact, a little exposure to the cold weather can strengthen your body in so many ways. Here’s why we love winter…

It improves your health 

To keep the body warm, the heart works harder to stimulate blood circulation. It also improves lymphatic and cardiovascular circulation, which boosts your immune system so that your body readily wards off colds and flu. So if you’re prone to the seasonal sniffles, working up a good sweat outdoors could really build up your body’s resilience. Being exposed to the cold can also help to alleviate pain and muscle injury in the same way that an ice pack can. So if you have achey or inflamed muscles, there’s even more reason for you to get out rather than stay in!

It boosts calorie burn  

And good news – exercising in the cold will burn more calories as your body uses more energy to retain body warmth. ‘There’s a slight increase in calorie burn when your body warms itself from both the cold air touching your skin and the cold air that you inhale,’ says Chris Hall, founder of personal training service Hall Training Systems. ‘This increases the rate at which the body burns calories by about three to seven per cent.’ Another way your body burns fat is through an increase in ‘brown fat’. ‘This is the type of fat that we have a lot of when we’re newborns but then reduces significantly as we age. The advantage of these fat cells is that they contain a large number of mitochondria – the cells’ powerhouses – which help burn extra calories,’ explains Chris. ‘Research has found that the longer a person is exposed to the cold the more brown fat they produce, and this can burn up to 60 extra calories per day.’

It makes you stronger 

Your body may not be used to being exposed to the cold, but it was built to be challenged and can get used to the climate. As your body is having to work much harder, your muscles and organs will strengthen which will improve your overall health and fitness. What’s more, your energy levels will increase during and after training.

It enhances your mood

Not only will getting outdoors reduce your stress levels, it will also improve your mood. Vitamin D from sunlight works as an antidepressant and can fight seasonal affective disorder (SAD). So instead of complaining about the chill, get outside in the winter sun (when it appears!) and you’ll feel much better. And if you find it hard to sleep at night, getting out in the morning – even if it’s just for a brisk 15-minute walk – will help to readjust your body clock. The sunlight turns off your melatonin production, the hormones that make you drowsy, and will produce it again at night-time.