Although winter is starting to loosen its icy grip, it’s still cold almost everywhere in the country. It’s hard enough to exercise and eat right even in the best of circumstances, and the cold just adds an extra layer of difficulty.
The truth is that exercising in the cold can burn a few more calories because your body needs to use more energy to stay warm; however, that’s not enough to combat additional eating while also doing less exercise because it’s so cold. Add the issue of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) along with the shorter days and longer nights and it really becomes harder to stay healthy.
Here are a few tips and ideas to keep you healthier during in cold weather.
1. You’re sick
If you’re a bit under the weather and feel that you’re “coming down with something,” you should know that research reported in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that people who are physically fit and active have fewer and milder colds. The researchers tracked 1,000 adults during the fall and winter and found that cold “symptoms fell by 41 percent among those who felt the fittest and by 31 percent among those who were the most active.” The researchers theorized that working out increases the circulation of immune system cells and helps to fend off viruses and bacteria.
What about once you already have a cold? Experts from the American College of Sports Medicine recommend caution for people who are considering an intense workout while they’re sick. “Prolonged, intense exercise … can weaken the immune system and allow viruses to gain a foothold and spread. People who are already sick should approach exercise cautiously during their illness.”
ACSM experts offer the following recommendations:
• Do exercise moderately if your cold symptoms are confined to your head. If you’re dealing with a runny nose or sore throat, moderate exercise is permissible.
• Don’t “sweat out” your illness.
• Do stay in bed if your illness has spread beyond your head. Respiratory infections, fever, swollen glands and extreme aches and pains all indicate that you should rest up, not work out.
• If you’re recovering from a more serious bout of cold or flu, gradually ease back into exercise after at least two weeks of rest.
• In general, if your symptoms are from the neck up, go ahead and take a walk, but if you have a fever or general aches and pains, rest up.
2. Does cold burn calories?
You actually do burn more calories when you are outside in the cold weather. According to Andrew J. Young, Ph.D., of the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine in Natick, Mass., “There are two factors that could cause energy expenditure to increase with falling outdoor temperatures. First, if shivering is elicited by cold, then energy expenditure increases. However, different people have differing shivering-response sensitivity, and intensity of shivering will be influenced by magnitude of decrease in body (deep core and skin) temperature, which in turn is influenced by body size and fat content, which vary widely among people, as well as clothing worn. So some folks don’t shiver at all (well-dressed, lots of body fat), and a man in the cold is not always a cold man. The other reason energy expenditure might increase in cold weather is if you perform heavy physical labor (walk in deep snow, carry or wear heavy clothing).”
Additionally, there is a likelihood that you could have a slight increase in calorie burn (about 3 to 7 percent) from your body re-warming itself from cold air touching your skin as well as warming the cold air that goes into your lungs, adds Wayne Askew, Ph.D., a professor of nutrition at the University of Utah.
3. Winter activities burn calories
According to a review in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, adults are more physically active during leisure time in the summer than in the winter. People walk two to three times more for pleasure in spring-summer-fall seasons compared with winter. In addition, outdoor activities such as gardening and lawn-mowing tend to replace indoor pastimes such as home exercise and bowling.
However, there are plenty of calorie-burning activities you can do outside in the winter: skating, sledding, downhill and cross-country skiing, snowboarding, hiking and snowshoeing. Check out trimbleoutdoors.com, localhikes.com, trails.com, tecreation.gov and traillink.com for interesting outdoor ideas, and see the calorie burn (based on published Metabolic Equivalent tables) from the activities below.
• Ice skating, 8.2 calories per minute.
• Ice skating, fast, 10.5 calories per minute.
• Ice skating, speed, competitive, 17.6 calories per minute.
• Skiing, general, 8.2 calories per minute.
• Skiing, downhill, light effort, 5.9 calories per minute.
• Skiing, downhill, moderate effort, general, 7.0 calories per minute.
• Skiing, downhill, vigorous effort, racing, 9.4 calories per minute.
• Skiing, cross country, 2.5 mph, slow or light effort, ski walking, 8.2 calories per minute.
• Skiing, cross country, 4.0-4.9 mph, moderate speed and effort, feneral, 9.4 calories per minute.
• Skiing, cross country, 5.0-7.9 mph, brisk speed, vigorous effort, 10.5 calories per minute.
• Skiing, cross country, >8.0 mph, racing, 16.4 calories per minute.
• Skiing, cross country, hard snow, uphill, maximum, snow mountaineering, 19.3 calories per minute.
• Sledding, tobogganing, bobsledding, luge, 8.2 calories per minute.
• Snowshoeing, 9.4 calories per minute.
• Snowmobiling, 4.1 calories per minute.
4. Safety first
Dr. Alexis Chiang Colvin, an associate professor of sports medicine in the department of orthopedic surgery at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, has a few tips for a healthy skiing, snowboarding or ice skating experience:
• Take a lesson. For beginners, it is important to learn how to stop safely; for the advanced, a lesson by a professional can help correct bad or unsafe habits.
• Wear a helmet and other protective gear such as wrist guards if skiing or snowboarding. Even if you are going on the bunny slopes, you are still at risk for a head injury if you fall.
• Wear warm clothing with multiple layers that can be shed if you get wet or too hot. Fabrics other than cotton, such as wool or fleece, provide better insulation when they get wet.
• Wear appropriately sized gear that has been maintained and checked by a professional.
• Go with a friend. No matter the activity, there is safety in numbers.
• Get in shape before you ski or snowboard — don’t use skiing or snowboarding as a means to get into shape.
• Know when to call it a day. Many skiing and snowboarding injuries occur on the last run of the day, so realize when you have had enough and get back to the lodge.
• Use designated areas only. Ski, snowboard or skate in areas that have been specifically designated for those activities.
5. Workout at home
Sometimes when it’s really cold you just don’t feel like going to the gym. Try these home exercises. See: dietdetective.com/weekly-column/home-fitness-8-exercises-you-can-do-right-now. Or, do the 7 minute workout at tinyurl.com/y3nozuql. You can get great exercise videos on Netflix or Amazon.com to watch on your computer or stream right to your TV using Roku or some other device.
Charles Platkin, Ph.D. is a nutrition and public health advocate and founder of DietDetective.com, and the director of the Hunter College New York City Food Policy Center. Copyright 2017 by Charles Platkin. All rights reserved. Sign up for the free Diet Detective newsletter at DietDetective.com.