Sport, exercise and health are closely related. Studies show that regular physical activity has a positive effect on almost all areas of the body; including the cardiovascular system, digestion, the nervous system, the musculoskeletal system, the psyche, the immune system - to name a few.
According to the WHO, healthy adults should exercise at least 150 minutes a week with moderate intensity (endurance) and do strength training on at least two days a week.
What is easier in summer due to the nice weather becomes more of a barrier in winter: exercise and sport in the fresh air. It's pleasantly warm inside, uncomfortably cold outside - the weaker inner self has to be conquered twice over. But exercise at low outside temperatures also has health-promoting effects - as long as a few things are taken into account.
The health benefits of sport in winter
Surely everyone has heard the phrase "I would get sick if I exercised outside in the winter". This myth is not true per se; a cold only occurs when something is done wrong. In fact, outdoor sports in winter can prevent a cold, since the body's defenses are strengthened by exercising in the cold. When you breathe correctly (nose breathing!), the cold air moistens the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract, which makes it harder for cold viruses to spread. In addition, in addition to movement, the change in temperature between inside and outside increases blood flow in the body, which is also a factor that strengthens the immune system. Quite apart from outdoor sports, indoor sports also strengthen the immune system and prepare you for a winter without colds.
The fact that sport helps against depressive moods also applies to sporting activities in winter or in cold, dark environments. During sport, happy hormones such as serotonin or endorphin are released, which ensure a better mood.
In addition, exposure to the sun synthesizes vitamin D, which is considered the most important vitamin in winter (see last article) and also promotes serotonin synthesis.
Sport reduces stress and high cortisol levels - a particular advantage in the pre-Christmas period. By focusing on the execution of the movement, distance to everyday life, to problems, worries and fears can be gained, which can get you out of the negative mindset.
Not directly related to health, but still an advantage: sport per se increases body temperature in the short and medium term, which is usually what is wanted in winter. In the long term, you also feel less cold when you exercise regularly, since a higher proportion of muscles reduces the sensation of cold.
What must be considered when exercising outdoors?
There are a few things to keep in mind when exercising outdoors in the cold. If these are neglected, sport can impair health and promote the development of injuries and illnesses/colds.
1. Weather & Temperature
If the temperature is too low (from -5°C), strong wind or high humidity, the sports unit should be moved inside. Temperatures below 0 degrees are considered too cold for the elderly, the untrained and people who hardly or rarely exercise outdoors. Sub-zero temperatures increase the body's energy expenditure and can weaken the immune system.
2. Clothing & Equipment
Functional clothing and an onion-skin look are essential for good temperature regulation. For sports of all kinds, it is advisable to wear several thin layers on top of each other so that air and heat can accumulate in between and moisture transport to the outside is enabled. The outermost layer should not be windproof, otherwise the moisture will not escape and the body will sweat more and overheat. Functional jackets with ventilation slots are best suited.
If you stay outdoors for a long time, thermal underwear made of merino wool and synthetic fibers should be used. The former keeps you warm, the latter absorbs moisture and dries quickly.
The top priority when it comes to clothing for outdoor sports is: hat/headband, gloves and scarf are obligatory ! It is also important to avoid dressing too warmly “to be on the safe side”. If the start feels a bit fresh/slightly cold, you have chosen the right clothing.
Important to add in terms of clothing: use reflectors and lights . Not only because it gets dark earlier in autumn and winter, but also because visibility is often poor. If longer distances are covered, such as when cycling or running, it may happen that it is foggy a few kilometers away.
When cycling , you should not only use a better profile or shoe spikes because of the slipping when you step on the ground, but also warmer material or overshoes because of the temperature. The tires should be changed to studded tires depending on the weather.
3. Warm up
Warming up should not be neglected in sports. The warm-up phase prepares the body for the effort to come by:
protective joint fluids are produced
Tendons, ligaments and joints are mobilized
core body temperature is increased
blood circulation and muscles are stimulated.
All of these processes strengthen the ability to coordinate and react and consequently protect against injuries.
Since the organism is more stressed when exercising outdoors and uses a lot more energy to maintain and regulate body temperature, the warm-up phase is all the more important in cold temperatures. This is done according to the principle “start slowly”; no matter what kind of sport - whether cross-country skiing, cycling, Nordic walking, running or skiing. In cold weather, it is advisable to wear an extra layer of clothing when warming up.
4. Sun protection
Even when the sun isn't shining, the UV rays penetrate through the clouds. Sun protection for the skin and eyes is therefore part of the standard equipment, just as it is in summer or on nice days.
When skiing, touring or other activities at high (and snowy) altitudes, the sunscreen should be chosen with the highest UV protection. snow reflects and amplifies the rays; Therefore, be sure to also apply cream to the underside of the nose as well as the neck and chin.
Sun protection also applies to the eyes. Sports glasses not only protect them from UV rays, but also from the wind. The cornea dries out faster in winter anyway due to the dry and cold air, which is intensified when it is windy. If the eye does not produce enough tear fluid as a result, this can lead to conjunctivitis in the worst case.
Drinking is generally necessary during exercise because of sweating. However, hydration becomes even more important in winter, since both the heating air and the cold, dry air from outside dry out the mucous membranes and skin. Only skin that has blood supply and is moistened can ward off viruses, bacteria and germs and protect against colds.
Water and herbal teas are best for daytime; for water and/or (largely sugar-free) electrolyte drinks after exercise to replenish the lost minerals and trace elements.
Attention: Firstly, cold suppresses the feeling of thirst, secondly, thirst generally signals a significant lack of fluids. So don't wait until you feel this physiological sensation and drink water regularly.
6. Moderate training intensity
Just like midsummer, winter is not meant for setting personal best times and top performances - at least not in hobby sports. Breathing too intensively and deeply at low temperatures increases the risk of damaging the bronchi, lungs, throat and throat. The following applies: the colder it gets, the lower the training intensity.
It's not just a matter of cooling down during performance, but also after the sports unit. Just as the body cannot go from 0 to 100, it cannot go from 100 to 0 either. After running, cycling, etc., therefore, slow down, go out and stretch gently and carefully. The stretching does not necessarily have to happen after the exercise and also depends on the individual training condition and goal. If it is part of the routine, it can also only happen after the shower.
Speaking of the shower: this should definitely be entered, but only after the body has stopped producing sweat. If you take a shower too early, you tend to take a shower that is too cold, which promotes freezing and colds afterwards. Depending on the intensity of the previous performance, it can also be the case that the body continues to sweat after the shower - then the shower was of course for nothing.
A balanced, healthy post-workout meal is also part of the cool-down. Healthy meals support recovery because they provide the muscles with protein and carbohydrates. In addition, the vitamins and minerals lost through sweat must be returned to the body. Sodium and chloride in particular are excreted through sweat; but potassium, calcium and magnesium are also lost through sweating. Our African Bowl, for example, contains high amounts of sodium, potassium and magnesium, which is why it is ideal for a post-workout meal.
Proper breathing is important in winter primarily for maintaining health rather than performance. Cold air has to be breathed through the nose because mouth (nose) breathing dries out the pharynx and mucous membranes, contracts the bronchi and mucous membranes of the respiratory tract and thus impairs oxygen uptake and induces pain in the lungs. When breathing through the nose, on the other hand, the nasal mucosa is moistened and heated, thereby filtering the inhaled air.
Pure nasal breathing also has the advantage that it protects against excessive training intensities, because: the faster you run/drive/etc., the higher the respiratory rate and intensity and the more likely you are to breathe through your mouth to get enough oxygen.
Depending on the weather and sensitivity, wearing a scarf/scarf around your mouth and nose is a good idea. This warms the air slightly and makes breathing easier.
If the lungs are burning, the training must be stopped and the warm place immediately sought. The risk of a dry cough, bronchitis or pneumonia is far too high.
All in all ...
nothing stands in the way of outdoor sports even in the colder months. When adhering to the above recommendations and rules as well as a rational(!) assessment of the weather situation and individual performance, sport contributes positively to health and reduces the risk of catching cold. So let's go - have fun and be careful!
This article was written by our author Lisa. Her greatest passions are nutrition/health, cooking and sport.