Winter is here—so it’s time to hibernate until spring, right? Here’s why that mentality might not be great for your body and mind.
This just in: sunshine makes life better. Although it might sound obvious, a recent study has found that sun exposure has an even greater effect on your mood than you might think. After studying data on more than 15,000 adults, researchers concluded that sunshine is by far the most significant weather-related factor affecting mental health.
But what if it’s a miserable day with zero sunshine in sight? Well, it turns out you should still get outside (wearing the right winter gear, obvs). Here’s why.
1. You’ll be happier.
Our brains are hardwired to appreciate nature, and winter scenery is incredible: snow-dusted mountain peaks, clouds misting across the sky … you get the idea. Being in nature can make you calmer and less likely to brood. Even looking at photos of nature can have an uplifting effect. So if you just can’t make it outside, surround yourself with gorgeous nature images and invest in some hardy houseplants.
2. You might be less likely to catch a cold.
If you’re walking outside, that is. Exercise is a proven immune booster: walking for just 20 minutes a day can help strengthen your immune system. And walking briskly for 45 minutes five days a week has been shown to reduce the risk of catching a cold by one-third.
Contrary to popular belief, being (moderately) cold doesn’t make you more likely to get sick. Most researchers agree that the main reason we catch colds in winter is because we’re cooped up indoors with other people who may share their germs.
3. You’ll burn more calories.
Winter can mean cozying up on the couch for hours and indulging in all the treats—things that, of course, aren’t great for your physical health. Getting outside naturally encourages you to be more active, whether you’re skiing, snowshoeing, or just walking the dog. Plus, studies show that exercise and nature exposure complement each other—for example, exercise may boost your mood even more when you do it in nature. Mild cold may also help you burn slightly more calories, as your body has to work harder to keep you warm.
4. You’ll be more energized.
Need a pick-me-up? Before brewing yet another cup of coffee, consider going for a quick walk. Being in a bustling mall or loud office for long periods of time can overwhelm your brain, leading to mental fatigue and lack of focus. Basic tasks become just a little more difficult. Writing a simple email seems impossible. The good news: studies show that people do better at cognitive tasks after time in nature. Even a 10-minute walk outside might make that email easier to write.
5. You’ll soak up some vitamin D.
We make vitamin D when sunlight hits our skin—so it’s no surprise that about 40 percent of us don’t get enough in winter. This all-important vitamin is essential for maintaining strong bones, strengthening the immune system, and providing other surprising benefits. Heading outside on sunny or partly cloudy winter days can help make up for your vitamin D shortfall. Even so, you’ll probably also want to take at least 1,000 IU of vitamin D3 per day during the colder months. Speak with your health care practitioner for more information on vitamin D dosing.
6. You’ll be less stressed at work.
There’s more to reducing workplace stress than deep-breathing techniques and eating well. Nature time can have a surprisingly big impact on how you feel on the job. Studies show that nature contact at work—including time outdoors, office plants, and window views—can mean less stress. Don’t let rain or light snow keep you from taking a 15-minute walking meeting outside; bring winter wear to work and keep an umbrella by your desk.