Winter Fitness: Indoor vs. Outdoor Exercising

Winter Fitness: Indoor vs. Outdoor Exercising

If you enjoy jogging, walking, cycling or other warmer-weather activities, it can be difficult to keep up your regular fitness routine when a serious wind chill or snow storm makes it impossible to get outside for a good workout. Fortunately, there are many indoor activities from jumping rope to swimming, strength training, yoga, aerobics classes and using the treadmill, etc., that can take the place of exercising outdoors—keeping you fit, happy, looking good and getting healthier until spring breezes arrive!

To encourage you to embrace exercise during winter (inside or outside), here’s some info that’ll help you gain the body-and-soul benefits that come from daily physical activity. Psst! They’ll give you a younger RealAge, a better sex life, improved stress management, less wrinkles, a stronger ticker, plus you guard yourself against diabetes, some cancers, depression and a roster of maladies from constipation to insomnia.

Outdoor exercising benefits in winter
One 2011 study found that “compared with exercising indoors, exercising in natural environments was associated with greater feelings of revitalization and positive engagement, decreases in tension, confusion, anger and depression and increased energy.” The researchers did caution there weren’t a lot of high quality studies on the topic, but you know how great it makes you feel!

Outdoor exercising risks in winter
To help you feel more positive about exercising indoors in the winter, here are some potential health hazards associated with outdoor winter exercising:

  • Cold air can be hard on the lungs and cardiovascular system (not smart if you have asthma, heart disease, poor circulation or Reynaud’s disease).
  • Falling on icy patches can cause serious injury.
  • If you get too cold, hypothermia is a 911 emergency. It happens when the body automatically starts shuttling blood from your skin to your vital organs to keep them warm. It’s signaled by shivering, slurred speech, lack of coordination and fatigue.
  • Frostbite is always a danger. Frostbite is a medical concern; tissue can be damaged permanently. A wind chill of minus 16.6 F can cause frostbite in less than 30 minutes.
  • Cold air traps particulate matter and other pollutants close to the ground, so air quality can suffer (air pollution is worse in Denver and Beijing in the winter, for example). Check for air quality in your area before you head out.

Benefits of indoor exercise in winter
Even if you’re hesitant to try exercising indoors, you’ll be impressed by the many benefits (and variety) doing so can bring. Some benefits include:

  • Think about how much less time it takes if you’re at home, where you’re going to do that 45-minute yoga routine or sweat along with a Jillian Michaels video.
  • At a gym, you get the reinforcement and socialization that comes with going to a designated place, for a specific committed workout.
  • And at home or the gym, it’s so easy to mix up your routines. One day you can jog or walk the treadmill or ride the stationary bike. The next, you’re doing some aerobics or a stretch class, and after that there’s strength training with bands or hand weights! Never boring—and great for avoiding overuse injuries. Outdoors, chances are you do the same thing, day after day.

Risks of indoor exercising in winter
Exercising means you’re breathing more often and more deeply than usual and taking more air into your lungs, so if air quality is poor, you may breathe in more harmful pollutants. Also breathing through your mouth (it’s only natural when you exercise) doesn’t filter air like breathing through your nose does. More pollutants enter your airways and smaller inhaled particles can get deeper into your lungs. The more pollutants you breathe in, the more likely you are to experience their negative effects.

So, make sure you work out in well-ventilated, low-pollution environments—whether at home or the gym. Everything from animal hairs to dust mites and particulate matter from a fireplace or wood-burning stove can provoke allergies and asthma. And remember, when heading outdoors, pay attention to air quality reports.

Medically reviewed in December 2019.

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