While you may hide in the house as soon as cold weather hits, there are more than a few reasons to get out and enjoy the cool air.
There are a lots of misconceptions about life in the South, and one of the biggest is the belief that it doesn’t get cold down here.
Though Atlanta’s recent “snowpocalypse” helped fuel this myth, the truth is nearly all the Southern states experience a good stretch of below-freezing, or close to it, temperatures in the winter.
However, because we typically don’t get a lot of snow and therefore have no winter-sports culture, many Southerners spend most of the cold weather season indoors…and that may be a mistake.
According to several studies and experts, a little (or a lot) of time spent in the cold fresh air can be highly beneficial to your health.
Today, we look at 5 reasons for your whole family to spend more time enjoying the great outdoors this fall and winter.
#1: Cold air helps us sleep better, boosting immunity
Nearly every doctor, scientist and health expert agrees, the best natural remedy for boosting immunity is NOT mega-doses of vitamin C or more Echinacea, it’s getting enough sleep.
At least 8 hours a night to be exact.
Sadly, Americans are chronically deprived of sleep, sleeping 30-45 minutes less per night than other nations.
Though sleep aids and therapies may have their place, one of the best ways to ensure a quality night’s sleep is to open a window and let in the cool, fresh air.
Before it’s time to sleep, your body temperature naturally drops, signaling your sleep system. And, as this University of Pittsburg study concluded, cooler temperatures help your brain wind down to sleep.
The University of Southern Australia also published that sleeping in a cooler room helps prevent insomnia and helps you stay asleep longer.
And let’s not forget the natural stress-relieving and sleep-inducing qualities of fresh air.
But how cool is too cool?
It somewhat depends on you, but the National Sleep Foundation recommends adults keep their bedrooms between 60-67 degrees.
#2: Cold temperatures can help you burn more fat and calories
As reported by the Endocrine Society, long-term exposure to mildly cooler temperatures can help your body produce more beneficial brown fat leading to enhanced metabolism.
Brown fat, also known as brown adipose tissue, is a beneficial type of fat that burns energy and glucose to product heat. It is prevalent in babies and small animals, and helps protect from diabetes and obesity.
According to this study, the ideal temperature to stimulate brown fat production is 66 degrees Fahrenheit.
Additionally, cooler temperatures can help your body convert white fat, that unwanted stuff from your thighs and stomach, into beige fat—a fat somewhat similar to brown fat that helps you burn more calories.
#3: Cold Temperatures Can Help Reduce Inflammation
Just like an ice pack helps soothe strained or sore muscles, science says cold temperatures can help reduce exercise-induced inflammation.
Olympians have reported to use the extreme cooling technique known as cryotherapy to help them recover faster and alleviate soreness.
Though FDA is still unsure about the safety and efficacy of cryotherapy, it has been practiced in Europe and Japan for decades, and this study proved exposure to extremely cold temperatures (up to -166 degrees Fahrenheit) helped runners recover better than infrared radiation therapy or no therapy at all.
Many doctors, therapists and athletes also swear by the pain relieving benefits of hot and cold therapies, such as taking a sauna followed by a cold plunge.
Though the Western science on this topic is relatively young, historical use and anecdotal evidence does support the theory that cold temperatures can help you recover from exercise faster…which is good news for hard-working homesteaders and farmers.
#4: Cold Fresh Air Supports a Healthy Respiratory System and Encourages Exercise
Many Southern cities (though, thankfully, not more rural areas in the South) experience regular air quality alerts during the summer.
Not so in the winter months when pollen counts and pollution are naturally lower.
If you have children who suffer from bronchial issues, the winter can be a perfect time for them to get outdoors more and breathe in all the benefits of fresher, cleaner air.
Likewise, those who suffer from seasonal allergies (or just can’t take the summer heat) are more likely to benefit from outdoor exercise in the winter, when pollens and humidity are at their lowest.
As we’ve written about before, outdoor exercise has numerous advantages compared to indoor exercise including enhanced calorie burning, stress-reduction and increased small tendon and muscle strengthening.
#5: Acute Exposure to Cold Air has an Immunostimulating effect
It seems counter-intuitive, but acute exposure to cold air actually revs up your body’s defenses.
How the heck does this work?
When your body gets hit with a blast of cold air, like during a brisk walk or outdoor playdate, it perceives this as a stress and temporarily increases its natural killer cells to compensate.
Conversely, recent science has proven too much exposure to dry winter air can compromise your body’s mucous membranes by drying them out, making you more susceptible to falling ill.
So…should you spend more time inside or outside to avoid colds and flu?
Humidity and the amount of time spent outdoors are the key factors to consider.
Since we experience mostly humid cold days here in the south, it would stand to reason that moderate amounts of time spent outdoors would be beneficial to your immunity.
Should a dry spell hit, use of a humidifier indoors is recommended to help keep mucous membranes moist and healthy.
Plus, commonsense tells that by stepping outdoors or opening an office window we reduce our exposure to unwanted germs.
How to Enjoy the Winter Weather…Without Snow
Based on the research above, one can safely conclude time spent outdoors this fall and winter will benefit your health.
But…without snow sports and outdoor winter culture, what’s a person to do for fun?
When you own acreage and/or a country home, the possibilities for cold weather fun are endless. Here are some ideas:
- Go for a hike
- Cut a trail through the woods (without fear of snakes, ticks or other warm-weather critters)
- Set up an outdoor exercise area
- Take the dog for a walk
- Warm up by playing tag or hide and seek with the kids
- Build a treehouse
- Go bird watching (they do fly south you know)
- Get outdoor projects done around your property
- Bundle up and read a book on the porch
- Build a fire pit and have regular hot dog roasts
- Go fishing
- Hang out in a Treepod
- Take a nature walk
- Throw on a scarf and hat and take your ATVs out
- Set up an obstacle course for the kids
- Consider a winter garden with hardy greens and root vegetables
- Spend time building a campsite and roast hot dogs and marshmallows
- Tarp your garden beds
- Take art projects outdoors---collect fall leaves, pinecones and nuts to make a centerpiece or prune some pines to make your own festive holiday wreath
- Let your kids enjoy your hayloft—if you have hayloft let the kids build forts, jump around and get creative in the barn
Dress Like a Yankee to Keep Warm
German parents, who make their children play outdoors no matter what the weather, have been quoted saying, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing.”
And, let’s face it, most Southerners do NOT know how to dress appropriately for the cold weather.
A fleece sweatshirt and stylish scarf won’t cut it.
Get yourself (and the kiddos) a down coat, warm scarf, waterproof winter gloves, long underwear, wool socks, wool or cashmere sweaters, rain gear and fleece lined water-proof winter boots.
If that’s not enough, buy a pair of snow pants…it will be worth it on that one day you get snow.
Bring Along some Warming Comforts When You Head Out in the Cold
Glove warmers, hot chocolate, tea, coffee or even a hot toddy can really take the chill out of a winter-day-walk or hike.
Reward Yourself Indoors
One of the best things about working, playing or exercising outside in the cold is the relaxing satisfaction of warming up when you come inside.
Build a fire, have a pot of soup, hot meal or cider waiting in the slow cooker, take a long hot bath, enjoy a brandy or enjoy a warm neck wrap or hot water bottle on the couch.
Whatever it takes, commit to spending at least a little time each day enjoying the outdoors this winter. You’ll be healthier, fitter and happier for it.
For further reading, check out this compilation of 19 mental and physical health benefits of being outside by our friends at MyOpenCountry.