Benefits of Winter Running – Why You Should Run in Cold Weather

There’s no shame in hitting the treadmill when the going gets tough – not only is the walking belt free of slippery ice, but indoor running is also a great way to train for a quick 5K, perfect your rhythm, or give your joints a Pause to pound on cold, hard pavement.

However, provided you feel safe, there is a benefit to walking miles outdoors during the colder months, says Kimberley Dawson, Ph.D., mental performance consultant and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University in the cold city of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. A lot of Olympians and other runners she works with describe winter running as both a calming and invigorating experience, “like cleansing,” she says.

There are a few caveats to consider before heading out into the cold. exercise physiologist Daniel Craighead, Ph.D., a research assistant professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, is careful to point out that you should always protect yourself from the elements. “Lie down to keep your core temperature in a normal range and avoid hypothermia,” and also to avoid frostbite, he says.

There are other risks: Inhalation of cold air can trigger bronchospasms, episodes of coughing and asthma-like wheezing that interfere with breathing. And high blood pressure in the cold could lead to heart attacks, especially in older people or those with underlying heart conditions. This is one of the reasons clear the snow send so many people to emergency room. The risk is lower with running, especially for those who do it regularly, but it’s still worth recognizing, he says.

Regardless of your baseline health, there are days when conditions may warrant staying indoors. There is no single cut-off temperature that is dangerous, as wind, precipitation and sunlight play a role. Instead, Craighead recommends checking your local weather forecast and factoring in wind chill. opinion and frostbite warnings. Also, consider the amount of ice on your route; slipping and hurting yourself could keep you inside much longer than expected.

But on days that don’t present these dangers, consider gearing up and getting out to reap the benefits of winter running. Along with psychological sensations such as peace and clarity, braving the elements also comes with physical benefits. Here’s why training in cold weather might be worth it.

It helps eliminate winter bites

On the first frosty day of each season, your sympathetic nervous system kicks into action, ramping up your fight-or-flight system to keep you from freezing. Your blood flows inward from your skin and extremities to preserve your core temperature and vital organs, says Craighead. And if you didn’t produce heat while running, you might start to shiver.

But as you repeatedly experience cold weather without life-threatening consequences, your body learns to tone down its stress response, a somewhat mysterious process called habituation to cold. As winter progresses, fewer stress hormones, such as catecholamines, circulate in your bloodstream. And more of that blood stays close to your skin, which warms you up.

contrary to heat acclimatization, cold habituation has no proven performance benefit; it also doesn’t seem to add to the health benefits you already get from exercise, says Craighead. However, regular runs can speed up the adaptation process, making any other outdoor task, from walking the dog to waiting for the bus, more bearable.

You will decrease the impact of seasonal sadness

Millions of Americans, especially those who live in northern climates, notice that their mood drops during the colder months. Health experts believe that one of the main reasons for this condition, called seasonal affective disorder, is that less exposure to natural light disrupts our circadian rhythms.

Working out outside during the day can help reset those rhythms, says Paul Winsper, vice president of human performance, science and research at Under Armour. Sun exposure also increases the production of vitamin D, a key component of mood-regulating neurotransmitters like serotonin (and, Winsper points out, essential for a healthy immune system).

Add to that the mood-enhancing effects of physical activity and exposure to green spaces, and cold-weather running can serve as a balm, says Dawson — an antidote to “nature deficit disorder.” , a term coined by the author Richard Louv to refer to the disconnection from the world around us. Additionally, exercising outside can also decrease fear and unease; in a great 21 year old to study, Swedish cross-country skiers were about half as likely to develop anxiety as non-skiers.

All of this is especially critical right now, with an ongoing pandemic that has taken a toll on our collective sanity. “When you look at what COVID has taken away from us, it’s really taken away our sense of control,” Dawson says. “We get that back when we’re outdoors, when we’re one with nature and grounded.”

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Of course, for many people, running outdoors alone isn’t enough to treat seasonal depression, anxiety, or other mood disorders. It’s always a good idea to speak with your doctor or a mental health professional if sadness, hopeless or anxious thoughts are interfering with your daily activities. And if you’re in crisis, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline toll-free at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text “HELLO” to 741741.

And, you can speed up your metabolism

Chills certainly increase your body’s energy expenditure, but if you’re running, your core temperature probably won’t drop enough for you to start shivering. However, research suggests smaller drops in body heat can trigger a phenomenon called nonshivering thermogenesis, an increase in metabolism mainly accomplished by activating a special tissue called brown fat. (There are even proof this effect increases as you get used to the cold.)

“As the weather gets colder, people tend to be less active,” says Craighead. Add in pandemic restrictions and routine changes, and many people have even moved less over the past two years. The punch of exercise and cooler air can put your body’s power systems to work.

You will develop mental skills for running

Suppose you are training for a spring race, for example the Boston Marathon, which in 2022 Return on its traditional third Monday in April. The weather for these events can be unpredictable, as anyone who has led Boston in 2018 can tell you. Persevering in less-than-ideal conditions in training can prepare you for whatever the odds come race day, says Dawson.

“You get this really good feeling of, I’m mentally strong, I can do this,” she says. “If I can navigate that, then I can navigate that spring marathon in terms of whatever it throws at me.”

But also enjoy a relief from expectations

The chemical reactions that produce muscle contractions work best in warm temperatures, which means you can’t always perform as well in freezing conditions, says Craighead. That, combined with the added challenge of ice or slush, means you can worry less about maintaining a good pace on Strava.

“When it’s a sunny day and the conditions are ideal, you think, ‘I really have to enjoy it,'” Dawson says. “I love a winter’s day because it doesn’t ask for anything. It just says that success goes out the door.

Of course, some people find it easier to back up than others: “I’ve always enjoyed running in the snow, because I didn’t have to worry about how fast I was running,” says Craighead, who has competed at Ithaca College in New York. . “But I’ve had teammates panic when they see very slow time on their GPS watch and go too hard.”

If you’re still obsessed with numbers, consider leaving your watch behind or running the clock on your own, suggests Dawson. Many runners she works with find a balance by doing tempo runs or interval workouts on the treadmill, then doing long runs and easy runs outside. She also suggests being creative with your route: “For me, I run around the cemetery because it’s the first road to be plowed,” she says. Plus, it’s peaceful and quiet.

Or take on a completely different challenge. When the drifts pile up, Craighead turns to snowshoe race, wearing light shoes specially designed for the sport. Not only does this provide another chance to compete, but research suggests fitness gains transfer directly to running. “Some of my best trail seasons, back when I was trailing every spring, came after the winters had more snowshoes,” says Craighead.

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