17 Dec Why going outdoors in winter is good for mind, body and soul
Brrrr! It’s winter. Isn’t this the time of the year when we all stay inside and avoid the frost and the freeze? Surely it’s far too cold to be traipsing about in the great outdoors, right?
Winter walks in the country aren’t just for outdoorsy types. We all need to get out and about if we want to stay healthy during the cold season. And research shows that even a short time walking in nature during the chillier months has many benefits for mind, body and soul. Below is a summary of the major advantages gained from a little winter exercise in the countryside.
A stroll in the snow makes you smarter. That’s right! The latest scientific findings are smashing the myth that our minds struggle to function in cold conditions. Apparently, it’s quite the opposite. When temperatures drop our minds become much sharper and our ability to perform mental tasks improves.
We’re certainly not expert neurologists here at the Hampshire Countryside Service but, as rangers, we often work outside in winter and have first-hand experience of doing tasks in the cold. And the consensus is that mental tasks can be much more difficult in the summer, when it’s more likely we’ll get ‘hot and bothered’. So, if you want to win the next family game of Trivia Pursuit or take home the prize from a pub quiz over the festive holidays, then a brisk stroll in the countryside might just give you the edge.
During winter you may decide that the gym is the place to get fit. But did you know there are extra benefits from keeping fit outdoors?
You don’t have to overexert yourself when exercising outside, because being in the cold helps boost your metabolism anyway. The chill makes your body work harder to stay warm, which raises your metabolic rate. And the higher it is, the more calories you burn (something I tend to appreciate at this time of year, after a bit too much rich food during the festivities!).
Being outside also means you’ll get a dose of Vitamin D. This is linked to our mood and improves our immune system function. Exposure to sunlight can be in short supply with so many of us now working in offices. If you spend a lot of time indoors, then it’s even more important to use your spare time to get out and build up a good amount of this vital vitamin. And the fresh air is good for the lungs too.
As well as keeping your mind alert and your body fit, being outside in the country also helps improve mood. Many people struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) at this time of year and experience symptoms similar to depression. Advice from MIND is to make the most of natural light by going for walks, spending time in parks or gardens, or simply sitting near a window. Research shows that connecting with nature also helps relieve stress and increases our sense of wellbeing. This is something we need all year round, not just in the spring and summer months. A green environment, whether that’s a dense wood or an open field, is proven to have healing powers by helping to reduce blood pressure, heart rate and muscle tension. And the presence of trees is known to give a positive psychological boost. After spending time outside, people report that their mood has changed from depressed, stressed and anxious to feeling calmer and more balanced.