Winter is a great time to run. Sadly, many runners move inside to exercise during the colder and snowy months. But running outside all winter long can be a fantastic way to train for spring and stay healthy. Here are 9 reasons to run outside this winter.
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Updated November 4, 2021
1. Running on snow improves performance with less energy
Running on snow feels harder. And this is true when we look at foot-to-ground contact. Softer surfaces, such as snow and sand, require greater effort to get that kick-off on each stride. When your foot sinks down or slides back slightly with each push-off, you need to use a little more leg power. More leg power means your muscles must work harder. And any time we work a muscle harder, it gets stronger.
I have chatted with many runners who run all winter long. Come spring, after the snow melts, these runners find that they are much stronger and faster running on dry pavement.
But while our legs work harder, our bodies work more efficiently in the colder temperatures. A study found that our bodies ability to rid the heat from working out is reduced in colder temperatures.
What that means is that it is easier on our body to work out in the wintertime. We don’t need to cool our bodies down as much, so use less energy. And we don’t need to do all those metabolic processes that are needed when running on warmer days. We sweat less and we aren’t as tired, as a result.
The researchers called this phenomenon “activity for free”.
2. Running outdoors makes us happier
Go outside right now and take a big deep breath of fresh air.
Go on. I will wait for you to come back…
… Welcome back!
How did that feel? You feel refreshed, right? Any stress of the day just melted away for a few minutes. You have better focus and now feel more alert.
This is because you just increased the amount of serotonin in your body. That’s right; that big deep breath of fresh outside air has triggered a pharmaceutical reaction in your body.
A breath of fresh air is like a huge dose of happy-drug. Science has proven that. And you didn’t have to spend one dime.
Now, imagine how much serotonin you will make on a 20 – 30 minute run!
We have heard about the “runner’s high”, which is the release of more happy-drugs (endorphins) in our bodies. Many studies have shown that running helps depression.
Running can also combat Seasonal Affective Disorder too. SAD is one form of depression that seems to be a result of the reduced daylight period during fall and winter months. It is well known that increasing exercise and spending more time outdoors in natural light can improve the SAD symptoms of fatigue, irritability, withdrawal and low self-esteem.
3. Being outdoors makes us healthier
That same breath of fresh air you just took a few minutes ago also created a cascade of hormonal effects in your body that will boost your immune system. You will start to produce more white blood cells and other natural chemicals, humoral immune components such as antibodies and antimicrobial peptides, that will fight off cold and flu this season.
If you were lucky enough to go outside on a sunny day and feel the sunshine on your face, you also made some vitamin D. During the winter, we tend to have vitamin D deficiencies because we aren’t exposed to as much sun. This can lead to all sorts of health problems and seems to be a factor in the development of some cancers, such as breast cancers.
A decrease in vitamin D blood levels is also thought to contribute to stress injuries and poor performance in athletes. Vitamins D’s role is to help maintain bone density and muscle strength. So, lower levels may leave you sluggish and prone to injuries.
So, get outside, run and make some vitamin D.
4. Treadmills are boring
Do I really need to say more?
Okay, some runners don’t mind treadmills. Some may even love them. And that is great. You can watch TV, listen to music or chat with a buddy.
But a lot of us hate them. Yes, we use them when necessary. But being outside, with all it has to offer, is so much better.
The Dreadmill: A conveyor belt to nowhere – Urban Dictionary –
The Urban Dictionary defines the dreadmill as “the conveyor belt to nowhere”. I love that definition.
If you want to use a treadmill this winter, check out the Beginner’s Guide to the Treadmill. But, for all the reasons I am telling you here, consider running outside at least on some milder days.
5. Running outdoors in the cold is badass
A few of us ran outside in -36 oC weather last winter during a 5K fun run. We were all bundled up in our winter run clothes that were covered in little cold flakes and crystals. Even our eyelashes were frosted over. Our cheeks were rosy, and our eyes glistened with tears from the cold.
We went to warm up at a local coffee shop and were called “crazy” by the other patrons, also warming up after just walking in from the parking lot. For some bizarre reason, runners love to be called crazy. Crazy for running marathons and ultramarathons, crazy for running extreme terrain and crazy for running in extreme weather conditions.
Running in -36 oC weather was crazy. It was also fun!
6. Avoid crowded gyms
Speaking of crazy! Gyms in the wintertime are crazy busy. It seems that no one wants to be outside in the winter cold. Come January, all those with New Year’s resolution fitness goals flood the classes and the equipment. It can be hard to get on any of the treadmills in January and February.
All those people are sweating, breathing heavy and generating heat. It is a perfect breeding ground for germs. The confining walls and close quarters mean that you are more likely to encounter those thriving germs.
Remember, this is also cold and flu season. It just takes one person who is, perhaps unknowingly, carrying a virus or bacteria to easily transfer it to you.
When I took an immunology class in University, the professor put up a picture of a crowded indoor swimming pool. The people were all standing around in the water as there really wasn’t room to actually swim. The professor then announced to the class, “these people are all getting free vaccine”. His point was that they were all being exposed to germs by just being in close contact with each other. It was made worse by being in a moist environment that these germs love to thrive in. I will never forget that picture. It grossed me out.
You shouldn’t have this problem if you run outdoors in the wide-open air.
7. The best cardio workout ever!
Running on snow is more difficult, yes. But it is such a great cardio workout. Don’t fret if you are running slower than on pavement. This is normal.
Studies by the military calculate out that running on a soft surface, such as snow, is roughly 1.6 times the effort. So, that 5 km run is the equivalent of an 8 km distance. Neat-o!
A study conducted at St. Mary’s University showed that runners that ran for 40 minutes in cold temperature had a heart rate that was 6% lower. Running with a lower heart rate means better energy efficiency and less fatigue.
Just the cold alone makes your heart and muscles work harder. Cold temperatures cause physiological effects on your body that make your body work harder given the same workout effort. Now, if you have a heart condition or cardiovascular disease, this could be a bad thing. But if you have a healthy heart, you can use this to your advantage to get in a better workout with less effort. How cool is that (pun intended)!
A word of caution:
Now, because of these physiological effects, winter is not a good time to start running. If you are new to the sport, you should wait until the weather warms up a bit or run indoors. Cold temperatures and sudden, unaccustomed exercise can lead to heart attack and stroke. It is also a good idea for seasoned runners to take it down a notch during very cold temperatures. Leave those speed workouts for a warmer day and just run easy on the really cold ones.
8. Winter is a beautiful time of year
If you stay inside all winter, you will miss out on some beautiful landscape. Nature is absolutely amazing this time of year. White, grey, and blue colors make for serene views. It is truly Nature’s mural. Have a look at some of these amazing shots taken on runs.
So, don’t forget to take your phone or camera with you when you run this winter. Feel free to email me some of your favorite shots to feature in a future Pink Ribbon Runner blog post. I would absolutely love to see what you have seen!
9. Its an excuse to buy new run gear
Who doesn’t love new workout gear? If you run outside in winter, you will need cold weather running gear. And you will need to layer up. That is double the gear; double the excitement of buying new gear. So, go ahead and get that cute winterized running outfit. You so deserve it.
Learn more about winter running
If you want to learn more about winter running, Pink Ribbon Runner has you covered! I run outdoors in the cold and snow a lot! Check out the other guides on Running In The Snow and How Cold Is Too Cold To Run Outdoors?
I also have a free printable guide to help you decide what you need to wear at different outside temperatures. This helps take the guesswork out of running outdoors. Click here to subscribe for free access to the Pink Ribbon Runner Template Library to download the guide.
I hope you enjoy running outdoors this winter!