So we're well into Autumn and those icy, snapping fingers of Winter are just around the corner. It's always much harder to get motivated to exercise when it's cold and dark outside, but experts say by avoiding exercising outdoors during the colder months, we're missing out on a whole heap of physical and mental health benefits.
It is well known that physical activity improves both physiological and psychological well-being, but research into the great outdoors and how a 'green exercise environment can benefit all' looks at how different environments influence and shape health. The research, undertaken by the University of Essex, addresses the additional physiological and mental health benefits that appear to occur when exercise is performed in an outdoor environment. It demonstrated that green exercise can improve both mental well-being and physiological health as well as having a useful role in the prevention of disease. There is also evidence to suggest that 'green exercise' can be helpful with rehabilitation programmes.
Engaging individuals who spend a great deal of their time sitting in 'green exercise' could be effective in driving behavioural change. For example, people that participate in outdoor activities tend to stick to it more than those taking up gym membership. The research goes on to say that as we may still be genetically designed to be hunter-gatherers in the great outdoors, we are not being stimulated physically or mentally in the same way and this may be detrimental to health. One hypothesis suggests that we are all born with an emotional affiliation for other living organisms, i.e. nature loving, which may mean as part of our genetic makeup we are predisposed to desire nature contact, and so green exercise should be used to facilitate physical activity to improve health.
On a physical level, exercising oudoors in winter can offer benefits you don't get in summer. For instance, cold weather may actually improve endurance, says Dr. Tenforde, an assistant professor of sports medicine and rehabilitation at Harvard-affiliated Spaulding Rehabilitation Network.. "In colder temperatures your heart doesn't have to work as hard, you sweat less, and expend less energy, all of which means you can exercise more efficiently."
Studies also have shown that exercising in cold weather can transform white fat, specifically belly and thigh fat, into calorie-burning brown fat. Plus, winter workouts help you get exposure to sunlight, which may help ward off seasonal affective disorder, a type of depression that some people experience during the winter months.
Of course any exercise is better than none for both physical and mental health. "However cold muscles are at a greater risk for strains and injuries, so make sure you warm up before your winter workout," says Pilates and Gyrotonic trainer, Hayley Oxley. "Try to move the body while stretching - static stretches can potentially increase the potential for injury. Stretching that keeps parts of the body moving help to loosen joints and warm up muscles and tissues."
Hayley has completed the Polestar Comprehensive Pilates studio course as well as several training courses with the Basi foundation in California and is pre and postnatal certified. Her teaching is complemented by her training as a trained clinical massage therapist with JING school of massage in Brighton. Hayley is also a fully trained Gyrotonic instructor and offers personalised sessions that are adapted to fit the needs of all ages, and abilities, from elderly patients recovering from injury, to highly skilled professional athletes.