Depending on where you live (and how much snow you get), winter can be a tough season to get through. 

No matter your location, being cooped up inside for a long time is no picnic. The short days, long nights, and freezing temps can start to weigh on you — especially when you’re watching them pass from your couch! 

When you see reports of temperatures lower than your shoe size, the thought of hibernating may seem more appealing than braving the chill. But not getting enough sunlight can impact you physically and mentally. 

You may experience a bit of the winter blues — aka, seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD doesn’t look the same for everyone: Among the 10 million Americans who experience it each year, it may be lighter for others, while others may feel it more intensely. 

Getting outside and prioritizing movement is one of the most effective ways to beat the winter gloom. The rush of endorphins, the smell of nature around you, and the warmth of the sun all work together to restore your body and mind!

From absorbing much needed vitamin D to strengthening your immune system and improving your mood, all aspects of your health benefit from getting outside. Now’s the time to get bundled up and head out your door — and discover just how healing nature can be this winter.

Get Some Vitamin D

Taking a winter walk or having fun with a snowball fight in your yard isn’t just a fun way to break up the day — they can improve your health! 

Because vitamin D isn’t naturally found in many foods, sun exposure is one of the best ways to get your daily dose. Even if you’re all layered up, your face, neck, and hands can still take in those rays.

The mental health benefits of exercise are elevated with the addition of the sun. While it’s a vital nutrient for healthy bones, vitamin D also helps ward off depression and symptoms of anxiety. 

You don’t have to spend too much time outside to reap these benefits, either. Depending on your skin tone, anywhere from 15 minutes to 2 hours will heighten your levels of vitamin D.

Improve Your Mood 

Studies show that contact with nature can boost your mood and help cut down on anxiety and stress. 

Natural daylight raises your serotonin levels (the feel-good chemical). Exercise also has an impact on your serotonin levels, which is why it’s often recommended by health professionals to combat depression and anxiety.

Your brain and body were made to connect with nature. This winter, head to your favorite trail and take in the wintery views. You’ll absorb some natural light and get in one of the best exercises for mental health — a hike! 

Ground yourself even more by “forest bathing” — taking in all your surroundings using all of your senses. You’ll find yourself feeling revamped and reenergized. 

Release Endorphins

When you exercise outdoors in winter, your brain releases endorphins. Whether you’re snow shoeing, running, or fat biking, endorphins work as a natural mood-booster.

Another benefit is that you can lower your risk of depression and stress and anxiety.  

If you’re really looking to break a sweat this season, skiing and snowboarding is one of the best ways to burn calories and improve your mood. If you’d rather do something more low-key, walking helps release endorphins, too.

Whichever you choose, getting outside and moving your body can help you feel better — physically and mentally. 

Burn More Calories

When you spend time outside in the winter, your body works harder to keep you warm. That means your workouts can be more effective with less effort. 

As your body burns more calories in response to the external temperature, your basal metabolic rate (the energy you need to breathe, digest food, and everything else that keeps you alive) begins to rise. Exercising in the cold also benefits your heart, as it works harder to pump blood around your body.

If you’re looking for a moderate workout, leash up your pup and head out for a brisk walk or jog. They need their exercise too, and you can work up a sweat together! 

Boost Your Immune System 

The winter often brings with it colds and flus that are no fun. Spending time outside can help boost your immune system and fight off the seasonal crud.

Exposure to diverse bacteria found in nature keeps your body ready to fight off illness and inflammation. This is especially true for children as their bodies build up their natural resistances. 

If you have a little one, bundle them up and head to your favorite park. Run around the jungle gym, push them on the swings, and see how good you still are at the monkey bars. You’ll get all the benefits of exercise while having fun outdoors as a family.

Let’s also put to sleep the idea that being outside will make you sick. You catch a cold or flu (or COVID) from people, not from cold temperatures. Data shows that even people who are already sick benefit from being outside

So if you want to feel better, prioritizing outdoor play this winter may just be the best medicine.

Improve Your Relationships

In a nation where people spend nearly 90% of their time inside, tensions can run high if you spend a lot of time around roommates or family. On the other hand, if you live alone, you run the risk of experiencing isolation or loneliness. 

Either way, the feeling of being trapped one way or another can wear on your relationships. 

Getting out of the house for a daily walk or jog can give you the space you need to recalibrate and relax. If you live alone, you can plan to meet up with a friend for a walk or to meet up at a local coffee shop and fit in some meaningful social time. 

Getting out of the house and going for a walk can give you a break, keep you active, and help your relationships thrive.

Prioritize Self-Care and Rest When You Need It

With shorter days and a busy schedule, there’ll be times where it’s tough to get outside and move. If morning walks or afternoon bike rides are too much to squeeze in, find a specific time in the day that works best for you and add it to your calendar. 

And as important as it is to get outside and stay active, the cold season is still meant for some extra rest and recharging before spring comes around. If you find yourself feeling under the weather with a cold, flu, or otherwise, it’s important to take the day off and get the rest you need to heal quickly.

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