Overcome winter woes by staying active

Reviewed by Theresa H. Care Delivery Manager & Family Nurse Practitioner

Time saver 4 min read

For many people, winter is challenging (those flesh-freezing warnings are no joke!). And we totally get it – winter’s cold temperatures and reduced daylight can make you want to stay inside, hunker down and hibernate. But, if you’re not intentional about staying active, your physical and mental health can really take a hit this time of year. Do you struggle to stay mobile when the temperature dips? You’re not alone. We share some creative ways to give your body and brain a lift despite what the thermometer says.

What happens when you exercise?

We all know that exercise is good for us. But have you ever stopped to really think about why? When you move your body, what happens? The physical benefits of exercise like building lean muscle, shedding fat and improving agility are widely touted. But most people don’t have a good understanding of what really goes on in your body when you exercise. So what’s really happening when you take that brisk walk or jog around the block?

The physiology of exercise

When you move your body, your heart rate increases – pumping more blood and oxygen to your muscles, which makes them contract and get stronger. At the same time, your lungs (aided by the diaphragm) kick into high gear – expanding to hold and move up to 15 times more oxygen throughout the body. This increase in blood and oxygen flow also benefits your brain as cellular function improves and a bevy of feel-good chemicals are released (hello endorphins, serotonin and dopamine!). At the same time, the pituitary gland releases growth hormones that go on the hunt for additional energy sources (ideally in the form of stored fat). The adrenal glands also get in on the action by releasing stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline to increase your heart rate so even more blood and oxygen can circulate throughout the body. As your body heats up, blood vessels in your largest organ – the skin – dilate and sweat glands release a mixture of water, salt and electrolytes to cool you off.

Movement does a body good

Now that we’ve covered what’s actually going on in your body when you exercise, let’s take a closer look at why exercise is so good for you. Movement is essential to your overall health and the benefits of exercise for the body and mind are well documented.

Exercise benefits

  • Boosts circulation – The stronger and more efficiently your heart is able to pump blood and oxygen throughout your body, the healthier you’ll be and the better you’ll feel.
  • Increases energy levels – All the blood, oxygen and hormones pumping throughout your body make you feel more awake and energized.
  • Helps you think more clearly – Chemicals released during exercise benefit brain cells to improve overall cognition and memory.
  • Improves mood – Feel-good chemicals and hormones released during exercise have been shown to enhance and lift mood.
  • Builds stronger bones – Exercise strengthens bones and helps maintain strong bones – which is especially important as we age.
  • Promotes better sleep – Moving your body is linked to a better and more restful night’s sleep.
  • Primes immunity – Exercise helps all of your body’s systems, including your immune system, work better and more efficiently.

A new take on exercise

Ok, you know that moving your body is a good thing. But a lot of people have negative associations with the word exercise. If images of complicated gym equipment and perfect bodies clad in sleek workout gear spring to mind for you – making you feel a bit anxious – it’s ok. You don’t need to join an expensive gym, wear certain clothes or abide by a strict exercise program. You just need to move your body and winter offers up some fun opportunities.

6 ways to move your body this winter

1. Snowball fight

Remember being a kid and so excited when the snow was just the right consistency to hurl that snowball at your unsuspecting sibling? We’re here to confirm that snowball fights are still fun when you’re grown up.

2. Sledding

Yes, the hike up your neighborhood sledding hill is exhausting. But the reward of zooming downward as snow flies in your face is well worth it.

3. Shoveling snow

Ok, we know that shoveling isn’t likely your favorite thing to do in the winter. But you can’t avoid it, so you may as well view it as being something really good for your body.

4. Skiing

Whether you dabble in the cross country or downhill variety, skiing is an amazing way to play in the snow and get a good workout.

5. Snowshoeing

If you haven't tried snowshoeing, you’re missing out. Walking atop creamy drifts of freshly-fallen snow is magical and good for your body.

6. Mall walking

Admit it, you chuckled when you read this one. But seriously, sometimes you want a climate-controlled walking path that just happens to provide some excellent window-shopping opportunities.


Get winter-ready with the right attire

When the temp drops, blood vessels constrict to keep your core warm – making extremities like fingers and toes especially vulnerable to the cold. Make sure to don a hat, some cozy mittens and warm winter boots when you head outdoors. It’s also a good idea to slather some Vaseline – or other barrier cream – on your cheeks to keep them moisturized and protected against windburn.

Hopefully this list of winter activities has you excited to get out there, move your body and enjoy all of winter’s wonders.

Share this post

Do you know someone who could use a simple & affordable healthcare option?