Bundle up, breathe deep and enjoy the fitness, emotional benefits of winter activities – Kokomo Perspective

Physical fitness provides countless health benefits.

Step outside for fresh air and breathe in the sense of well-being becomes apparent. Merge the two, and health experts say you have a powerful combination that offers long-lasting benefits.

Heading outdoors for physical activity not only does the body good, it also can be instrumental in preventing disease and boosting your mood, especially on dreary winter days.

Studies have shown outdoor sessions can lower blood pressure, boost the immune system and reduce cancer risk.

Local experts weigh in on some of the additional benefits of outdoor activities, as well as some ideas on how to connect with nature.

Out or in

Walking offers a host of health benefits, but does it matter whether you walk outdoors or indoors?

Khisha Anderson, coordinator of the Well Walkers Club at St. Catherine Hospital in East Chicago, says walking in any environment can help reduce blood pressure, lower bad cholesterol and improve heart health. But walking outdoors can provide a key aid to maintaining a fitness routine.

The main benefit to walking outside versus a treadmill is atmosphere, Anderson said. People are not as focused on the duty of exercise, watching the timer or mileage.

Instead, when outdoors, people tend to be more attentive to their surroundings taking their mind off their exercise routine.

It provides people the opportunity to smell the roses and enjoy their exercise, she said.

Debi Pillarella, director of bariatric services at Community Healthcare Systems Healthy 4 Life Advanced Weight Loss Center, says even when its cold, getting outside can create feelings of revitalization, reduce tension and increase energy.

You may even burn more calories simply by choosing an outdoor activity versus an indoor activity.

When getting outside when the mercury is dropping, the body works to keep itself warm, and the result is burning more calories, she said. Cold outdoor temperatures are said to activate brown fat, which helps the body heat up and stokes the bodys metabolism.

Theres also no cost to walk or participate in many activities outdoors, Anderson said.

Walking can be done anywhere, at any speed, by anyone, and its free, she said.

Effect on health

Heading outdoors offers several benefits to the body, and overall, can improve a persons sense of well-being, says Michelle Kelleher, a fitness instructor and trainer at the Purdue Northwest Westville Fitness Center.

When we go outside and connect with nature, it helps us connect to ourselves something that can change a day around, she said. This simple act of taking a walk outside also helps improve our overall well-being. Feeling connected and getting fresh air is a winning combo.

Especially in the winter, when the cozy blanket beckons, getting outside is important, says L.J. Mattraw, wellness manager with Franciscan Health Fitness Centers.

Being outdoors is a great way to improve your mood, he said. Physiologically, serotonin levels are usually lowest in the winter. Going outside and getting some sunlight is a great way to increase those levels and put you in a more positive mood.

Research also suggests that vitamin D levels drop in the winter, Pillarella says. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and promote bone growth.

Typically in the winter, we cover our body with warm clothing, compared to the summer, which results in less exposure to the sun where our body gets UVB rays, which limit vitamin D synthesis.

Even a 10-minute daily walk can help prevent vitamin D levels from decreasing, Mattraw says.

Grabbing a friend or workout buddy also can promote accountability and long-term lifestyle changes, Kelleher says.

Setting aside specific times to get outside might also be helpful to make it a natural routine, such as going for morning walks or going in the evening after dinner, she said.

Daily physical activity, particularly outdoors, boosts an individuals circadian rhythm, hormones and neurotransmitters, Kelleher said.

By improving our physical health, our mental, emotional and spiritual well-being improve, too, helping us to stay in balance and centered, she said.

Ideas for outdoor activity

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week.

If walking, a daily goal should be at least 10,000 steps, which is the equivalent of about five miles, Anderson said.

Going for a peaceful stroll, playing with your kids or taking an outdoor meditation class could greatly uplift your day, Kelleher said. Qigong and yoga are both great options. Dancing in the rain isnt a bad idea either.

After a snowfall, head outside for cross-country skiing, sledding, snowboarding and snowshoeing opportunities, Pillarella says. Many local parks, including the Indiana Dunes National Park, offer opportunities for winter activities.

Even making snow angels, building snow forts or participating in snowball fights can burn calories, she says.

Finding a fun activity is key and will make an outdoor activity something to look forward to, Pillarella says.

If its fun and enjoyable, its more likely to become part of your world, she said.

Take care

Though time spent outdoors is encouraged year-round by health advocates, Anderson says its important to keep in mind some precautions to ensure safety.

When walking outside during anytime of the year, especially winter, be mindful of the terrain, she said. Dress in layers when the weather is cold. You can take outer layers off as you warm up.

Drinking water is also critical, she says.

Hydration is just as important in the winter as it is in the summer, Anderson said.

Proper clothing is also key not only for comfort, but safety as well, Kelleher says.

To walk outside in the winter months, one must be prepared with snow pants, hats, coats and gloves, she said. Scarves and face masks are also beneficial.

Pillarella stresses the importance of looking at overall lifestyle changes and incorporating healthful behaviors such as getting outdoors into your routine throughout the day.

The numbers dont lie, and we really need to heed the advice of the experts and realize that although exercise is super important and highly recommended, its what you do when youre not formally exercising that really counts, she said. If you do a formal workout for an hour, but sit the rest of your day, you might be at risk for the active couch potato syndrome.

Studies have shown even among people who exercise regularly, those that exhibit an excessive sedentary behavior are at a higher risk of diseases and death, she said.

Its pretty simple the evidence is clear that the more physically active we are, the more health benefits and disease risk reduction we have, Pillarella said.

Slideshow: Outdoor winter fitness options in NWI

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Bundle up, breathe deep and enjoy the fitness, emotional benefits of winter activities - Kokomo Perspective

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