Faster, Stronger, Colder? The fitness benefits of winter workouts

Want to burn more calories, feel happier and run faster? Just take your workout outside this winter.
(Credit: Getty Images)

Depending on where you are exactly, it's either relatively mild and rainy, or windy, icy and snowy. Either way, I'll bet it's dark and gloomy, because it's winter in Canada, folks. Though I absolutely love working out outdoors during the summer months, when the cold weather hits I will do anything to stay indoors for my workouts, and, well, most other moments of life as well. (Much to the chagrin of my puppies. Sorry, guys!)

But, turns out working out in freezing temps could actually benefit our fit game. Here's why you (and I) should skip the gym and head outside for a wintery workout.

More fat burn

Say what? It's true - according to scientists in the Netherlands, even if we didn't move a muscle, just being exposed to cooler weather can increase caloric expenditure by up to five-fold! Add in the exercise component, and you're burning significantly more calories than if you hit the mat, inside. Exposing our bodies to below zero conditions also speeds up metabolism by stimulating brown fat cells. Experts even go as far as to suggest that by staying indoors, under strictly controlled heating and cooling systems, we are putting ourselves more at risk for obesity. Ahem, excuse me while I go turn down my thermostat.

Increased Endurance

Not only do we burn more calories due to increased caloric expenditure but we also burn more because we can go longer in the cold. Yes, when we work out in the winter, apparently our endurance improves as well. Human performance experts at the Mayo Clinic claim that because we can control our body temperatures better in cold versus hot conditions, our tolerance for exercise improves and we can therefore last longer during our sweat sessions. Other studies show that because of the easier temperature regulation, marathoners often run faster in the winter – indicating that along with endurance, speed and agility are also positively impacted by being exposed to the cold.

Improved Heart Health

When we're cold our bodies have to put in a little overtime to circulate blood from head to toe; our hearts are forced to work a bit harder when we do a winter workout than when we're sweating in milder temps. For a healthy heart, this is a good thing – improving the heart's efficiency and making it stronger and more equipped to deal with future strenuous exercise. For those with heart conditions, it's always best to advise a physician before engaging in new regimens and environments.  

Mood Boosting

Being out in the cold might makes us shiver, but at least we'll be smiling! That's according to research published in Environmental Science & Technology, which says that being cold during exercise can actually make us happier. We know that exercise in general causes our bodies to release happy hormones, known as endorphins. Because cool-weather workouts force our metabolism and hearts into overdrive – our bodies end up producing more endorphins when we're chilly. That combined with the mental health benefits of sun exposure, especially during the winter months, and the mood boosting advantages of winter workouts are significant.