Sure, snoozing through your alarm, staying under warm covers is awfully tempting when the mercury drops. But, there are some great benefits to cold weather running! If you can learn to embrace running in winter like conditions, you and your running will certainly be better off for it.
For most runners, getting out the door is the most difficult part. Facing the cold, the chill, the dark, etcetera. BUT – give it 10 minutes, and you’re through often the toughest part. This leads to one major benefit of cold weather running…
Here’s 7 Benefits of Running in Cold Weather
#1 Cold weather is IDEAL for running.
Tom Holland, author of The Marathon Method states “Running in hot and humid weather is extremely taxing on the body — there is a reason why the majority of marathons are held in October and November.” He also states “The colder the weather, the less heat stress on the body, which makes it significantly easier to run.”
One reason it is easier to run is because our heart rate is lower in cold weather when compared to the same effort in warm/hot weather. When it’s hot, our blood flow increases to our extremities to help us sweat, and cool ourselves. Yet, when it’s cold, the opposite occurs so we have more central blood volume. According to Chris Tyler, senior lecturer in environmental physiology at Roehampton University, this means “for the same pace you can run that at a lower heart rate – up to around 15 beats per minute fewer.”
What does that mean? Again, according to Chris Tyler, “Running with a lower heart rate means you’re going to be less fatigued at the end of a run.” Translation, it’s a great time to add things like fartlek, hill repeats, and other intense aspects of training that will improve your strength, speed, and endurance as a runner.
Related topic: Maintaining Your Motivation During Winter Months
#2 Fight against feeling SAD.
It is fairly common knowledge that the fewer daylight hours, and more time spent inside can have a negative impact on people’s mental outlook. The term for it is Seasonal Affect Disorder. Tom Holland (author of The Marathon Method) says, “running helps release powerful hormones that help combat this depression, increasing positive mood states during the cold winter months.” Further, a study in the journal Environmental Science and Technology found people who exercise outdoors have higher energy levels, less depression, and were more likely to be consistent with their workouts.
#3 Burn the “right” kind of fat.
Interestingly enough, we humans have different “types” of fat. White fat (think more visible, closer to skin) is associated with diabetes and obesity. But, brown fat burns energy to help maintain our body temperatures, and is often found in and around our organs. A NIH-supported study showed that white fat cells take on brown fat cell characteristics when our bodies are subjected to cold! Within a month of exposure to cold, study participants had a 42% increase in brown fat volume, 10% increase in metabolism and better insulin sensitivity!
Essentially, exposure to cold weather can alter our fat composition within our bodies. An extra bonus: cold exposure and fat conversion leads to an increase in your resting metabolic rate (you burn more calories while at rest).
Benefit Cold Weather Running #4
Burn more calories versus in warmer temps. Yep, that’s right. “Cold is much more metabolically expensive,” said Cara Ocobock, of the University at Albany, who did a Wyoming study that compared caloric expenditure at temperatures (F) of 15-23 degrees versus temperatures in the mid 50’s. Granted, we all won’t be running in that specific temperature range, but the key takeaway is that in the colder temperatures, study participants burned 34% MORE calories.
Yet another bonus, post run, your body works hard as well to get your bodily temperature back up to its normal range. Thus, that burns more calories, too.
Related topic: Tips for Running in Cold Weather
YES, you’re a bad a$$. There’s something about braving the elements, and being one of the few folks out on a cold or wintery day. When you do see another solitary runner, you give each other the knowing nod, “yeah, we got this.” Plus, it truly makes you feel more alive. One runner compared each breath to a sip of refreshing, cold water.
Benefit #6 Cold Weather Running
Gain some helpful and needed head space. Being indoors for hours on end, or with family members (think holidays) more than usual can be wonderful. But it can also make you crazy. Time outdoors, hopefully solo, provides a mental break, a bit of clarity, and possibly a renewed perspective.
Wintery cold weather runs can also be downright beautiful. Cold weather running means you’re more likely to have some trails, views, and paths to yourself – for even more peace of mind.
Prevent winter/holiday weight gain. Generally speaking, we tend to eat more, and move less in colder months. Thus, seriously avoid the temptation to “throw in the towel” and get back on the exercise wagon post holiday(s). While getting to a gym may be a challenge with our busy schedule, stepping out the door for a run takes little time. Essentially, running outdoors is both free, and convenient. Two things we desperately need to keep our health, and weight in check during the cold months.
Bonus Benefits – The Little Things
Some very nice little pleasures and benefits of cold weather running: a warm drink post run. Even better, a nice hot shower. Or, the drive home in your heated car (maybe with heated seats?).
Best yet, legitimate reasons to buy cold weather gear: tights, gloves, a cool jacket, hats, mittens, face mask, and the list (fortunately) goes on.