4 Reasons to Layer up and Get Outside This Winter

As the weather gets colder, wetter and drearier, many people retreat indoors and go into a form of hibernation. However, we aren’t grizzly bears, we don’t need to hibernate to survive the cold weather.  We need to fight that urge to hunker down under layers of blankets and wait for the days to brighten.  Getting outside in winter is so important for both our mental and physical health, and overall well-being. Here are four reasons to tug on those winter layers and get outdoors.

Vitamin D – The sun is one of the best FREE sources of vitamin D. 5-20 minutes is enough time to get an adequate amount of vitamin D in a day (anymore and you should be using a sunscreen to protect yourself from the sun’s harmful UV rays). There are even suggestions that you can still get some vitamin D on a cloudy day. Why is this important? Vitamin D helps the body produce one of those good chemicals called serotonin. Serotonin, in very general terms, can provide you with a number of worthwhile benefits:

  • Mood – Research shows that depression and mental health problems (including Seasonal Affective Disorder – SAD) arise more frequently in winter months.1 Getting some sun can help us maintain a positive state of mind and help reduce the chances of having SAD creep in.
  • Better Sleep – Serotonin also works in your body to produce natural melatonin. Melatonin is a chemical in your brain that helps relax the body so you fall asleep easier.
  • Strong Bones – Our bones can be fragile and we need to keep them strong for life. Vitamin D has been shown to help keep bones strong, especially when combined with exercise.

Fresh Air – When I was a kid and had a cold, my mother liked nothing better than to make sure that not only did I get outdoor time, but that the windows would be opened so she could “allow that fresh air to blow the germs away.”  While I wasn’t a fan of those open windows on a cold winter day, I can now appreciate her thoughts on the relationship of fresh air to helping build better health/immunity. Having medical journals and the Penn State Department of Health state that being outside can help prevent bacterial and viral infections, is additional support to my mother’s words.

Time with Family, Friends and Community – Once you step out that door, arguably you are stepping away from certain distractions like technology, work, and other indoor tasks. This time outside gives you the chance to refresh your mind. It is also a time to connect with others. Human connection is so vital to decreasing our anxieties and stress levels. It is important to connect with family, friends and a community where you can support each other and enjoy activity together, releasing stress as you engage. As a family, try a game of Fox and Goose in the snow OR have a community snowball fight!

Physical Activity – The final ingredient is movement. Getting outdoors in the fresh air is step one. Step two is to add movement. Physical activity has many mental and physical health benefits and getting outdoors to do it, only increases the impact of these benefits. Your physical activity of choice can be a nod to the climate where you live- consider ice skating or sledding in the snow, or a walk along a snowy trail, a sandy beach, or a wet sidewalk. Even outdoor chores count as movement. Check out 7 Ways to Keep Moving this Winter for some fun ideas to keep physically active outdoors.

With so many benefits of getting outdoors, I hope you make the most of your time in nature this Winter. If you still are not convinced, I encourage you to keep a mood tracker for one week. Each day, make note of how long you were outside, what you did outdoors, what the weather was like and how you felt. Share your results with us along with your favorite ways of getting moving outdoors. I am throwing on my toque and gloves and heading out for a dog walk and some Vitamin D. See you in the Great Outdoors!

Heather Chase

1 “Seasonal Affective Disorder.” John Hopkins Medicine, https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/seasonal-affective-disorder. Accessed 10, Nov. 2021.