Ask the Provider
Katie Murray, CNP
CentraCare Clinic - Big Lake
Benefits of Exercise During Cold Weather
Question: I often struggle with exercise during the cold months. How can I stay motivated during the winter?
Answer: We all know exercise plays a pivotal role in combating weight gain and promoting things such as heart health, but exercise can also positively impact some of the most common ailments that seem to upsurge during the winter season. Whatever challenges you face, here are a few additional reasons why keeping your body moving all year is critical to your overall health and well-being.
There is often a misconception that cold weather causes illnesses. While there is a rise in upper respiratory infections such as the common cold and influenza (i.e. the flu) in the winter, it is not the cold climate that causes illnesses; rather the culprit is viruses and bacteria. Taking steps to help boost your immune system is a great way to stay healthy when temperatures drop. Things such as eating a well-balanced diet, getting adequate sleep, and of course exercise are all great ways to help your immune system fight infection. Although research is limited on the benefits of exercise and reducing upper respiratory infections, light to moderate intensity exercise has been shown to speed up cells in your immune system which are ultimately responsible for fighting infection.
I’m guessing you have all heard someone, or maybe yourself, talk about an increase in joint pain with the weather change. Although evidence supporting this is limited, one thing for certain is cold temperatures tend to lead to a sedentary lifestyle which ultimately increases arthritic pain. The risk of developing osteoarthritis (OA) increases as you age. Although there is no cure for OA, one of the most important things you can do to manage arthritic pain is to keep moving. Exercise maintains range of motion, strengthens muscles which aids in joint health, and helps prevent weight gain which decreases stress on joints.
The winter is also associated with mood changes. This is commonly known as the “winter blues” but a more significant form is seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Decreased daylight and inactivity are a few reasons why depression often increases in the winter. Staying active and exercising increases the production of neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters (i.e. serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine) are chemical messengers nerves use to communicate. These chemicals are responsible for things such as happiness, focus and alertness. These are the same chemicals targeted with antidepressant therapy, so exercise is ultimately a natural way to help boost mood which can also serve as a powerful adjunct to anti-depressant therapy.
As you can see, exercise is not only good for cardiovascular health and shrinking the waist line, but it can also help you fight infection, maintain joint function and promote mental health. Cold temperatures may deter you from staying active but try to embrace the Minnesota winter and explore the activities the season has to offer or come up with creative ways to keep moving indoors.