Why bad weather is good for you: 6 benefits of walking in winter weather
Don’t let the rain or chill put you off getting outdoors. There’s tonnes of benefits for your immune system and mental and physical health.
We all know the benefits of walking, especially in nature. But with the wintery weather conditions, a lot of us hang up our walking boots and hibernate indoors with Netflix and a hot choccy. But walking in colder (and wetter) conditions is actually really good for you, and can even have stronger impact on your wellbeing that summer strolls. Research over the last few years has been exposing the unknown benefits of walking in wintery conditions. The reasons that are deterring us from going outside, might be the ones we should be embracing. A run (or dance) in the rain, or a cold brisk walk might be exactly what you need.
Embracing nature during colder months and bad weather might just be the best thing you could do for yourself - here’s why.
You know that distinctive and calming smell when it rains? Well that’s called petrichor. And it’s due to plants, trees, and soil releasing sweet-smelling compounds that combine in the air when there’s rainfall. Inhaling these compounds has been shown to improve our mood. The collision of water and air molecules also creates an abundance of negative air ions which can enhance respiratory health and immunity. In fact, experiments in the Alps found that those walking in heavily ionised air had higher levels of a vital antibody which showed strengthened immunity and amplified lung capacity.
Outdoors helps combat SAD Walking in bad weather can also help combat, “Winter blues” or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) which makes us feel a little low in colder, darker months. But spending time outdoors, even when it's cold or rainy, can actually help combat this. Sunlight, even if it’s a little, boosts our vitamin D levels which play a vital role in our mood and immunity.
Believe it or not, your body works harder when it's cold. In the same way as cold water therapy (or ice baths) work, being exposed to cold environments activates brown fat in the body. Brown fat, also known as brown adipose tissue, burn off white fat to generate heat. Research indicates that those exposed to cold conditions, like Nordic construction workers who opt to wear shorts in winter, often have rich layers of this beneficial fat. Cold exposure also boosts dopamine release for up to 4 hours, which is can help boost motivation and feel good hormones.
Rainfall releases beneficial compounds and negative ions in the air improve our mood, improve respiratory health and boost immunity. These are twice as abundant in woodland than open land.
Rainfall and winds are known to disperse pollution in cities, so a walk in a city during wet or windy weather means you’ll be breathing in purer air. In green spaces, especially forests, plants and soil release compounds in the air when they mix with water. Inhaling these compounds has been shown to improve our mood, enhance respiratory health and immunity. These benefits linger for longer in woodland and forests and are twice as abundant than in open land - so why not head for a woodland cabin break this winter.
Bad weather often means fewer people outdoors. This translates to a quieter, more peaceful experience in nature and cities. It’s a fantastic opportunity to reconnect with yourself and the environment without the distractions of the bustling crowd. There's a unique beauty in watching nature in more extreme weather conditions like wind, rain or cold spells. These moments are not just stunning; they're soul-soothing.
It’s been scientifically proven that spending time in nature resets our circadian rhythm and helps in improving sleep quality. The natural light exposure, especially during gloomy months, can help regulate our internal body clock. The dimming light also signals our body to produce melatonin, the sleep-inducing hormone. So, next time you finish your supper, consider a gentle stroll to help get a good night sleep and promote digestion.
Cold environments, in particular, activate our parasympathetic nervous system (often called the "rest and digest" system). This helps our body relax, slows the heart rate, and calms our minds and studies have shown that cold exposure can reduce emotional and physical sensations of stress. Even if this is just exposure to our necks.
Winter weather can ground us The simple act of connecting with nature, feeling raindrops on our skin or breathing in the cold air, can have a grounding effect. It brings us into the present moment, a natural antidote to the modern world's often overwhelming stimuli. Forests especially are great for reducing cortisol levels through forest bathing, even in adverse weather.
Sound of rainfall is calming The sound of rain can be incredibly calming. It's a form of "white noise," which means it's consistent and uniform. This type of sound is known to drown out sudden or jarring noises, creating a soothing auditory environment. A study from the University of California, Irvine found that sounds like rainfall can enhance our ability to concentrate, reduce stress hormones, and even improve sleep. It's no wonder many people turn to rain sounds to drift off to dreamland!
Nature, in all its moods and seasons, offers a plethora of benefits. So next time you look out and see gray skies, instead of cozying up with a blanket (however tempting), consider grabbing your raincoat or winter jacket and heading out. Rain or shine, walking in nature will boost your mental and physical wellbeing.
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