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Why you should exercise in the cold snap

Temperatures and the seasonal cold spell may have got you thinking that it’s better to stay indoors than to head outside for a workout. But what if we told you that, within reason, cold weather can enhance exercise, making it seem less like hard work and enabling you to keep going for longer so that you burn more calories? Scientists have proven that cold weather can help us reach our exercise goals more quickly, so wrap up and get out:

Cold weather put to the test

Last year, sport and exercise scientists at a trial at St Mary’s University, Twickenham, carried out a small trial with six male volunteers, all of whom were regular exercisers. First they tested their fitness levels, then asked them to perform two separate running trials in special environmentally controlled chambers. On each occasion, the men ran for 40 minutes at the same intensity, but with the heat labs warmed to 22.3C to replicate British summer time or cooled to 8C to simulate a typical winter day in Britain. Results showed the subjects’ heart rates to be an average 6 per cent higher at 22.3C — an average July day — a factor that can impair exercise performance.  “Their bodies also worked a lot harder to stay cool by sweating more,” says Professor John Brewer, head of the school of sport, health and applied science at St Mary’s. “The ‘summer’ exercisers lost 1.3 litres of fluid after 40 minutes, 38 per cent more than they did in the cooler climate.”

How winter beats summer for enjoyment

But it wasn’t just physiologically harder work. Even the relatively small difference in temperature between exercising outside during the winter and summer in the UK can make a difference to your exercise experience. “We looked at their perceived measures of thermal sensation — that’s how difficult or easy they found the activity in the different conditions,” says Brewer. “And it felt much easier for them in the cooler conditions.”

Why warm weather makes for hot work

Extra stress is placed on the heart and cardiovascular system when the body tries to cool down during warm weather workouts. “Scientists have tended to think that the seasonal changes in temperature we experience in the UK aren’t extreme enough to create physiological changes,” Brewer says. “Our findings have proven that there absolutely are positive adaptations that come with exercising in a typical winter temperature compared to a typical summer temperature.”


But do stay warm

All of this does not mean you should get cold on a winter workout. Brewer stresses the importance of wearing appropriate clothing – and enough of it. “Opt for lots of thin layers, made from moisture-repelling fabrics that can be peeled off if you start to overheat,” he says. “Keep extremities — your hands, feet and head — warm.” A waterproof layer is a good addition as it keeps off the wintery elements, as are disposable hand warmers if you have poor circulation to your fingers. Comfort is key at this time of year. “If you know that you are not going to suffer within the cold and might benefit from it, you are much more likely to look forward to stepping out of your front door,” Brewer says. “Think of the cold as an exercise benefit, rather than detracting from the results.”

Peta Bee

Author Performance Editor of Athletics Weekly Magazine Published on