A huge chunk of people stop exercising when the days get shorter – and that means not being able to take advantage of all the benefits that come with moving more.
Not keen on running in the dark after work? Keep swapping your gym workout for an evening on the sofa instead? Incessant rain putting you off your midday walk? If those scenarios sound familiar, you’re not alone.
In fact, according to new research from Sports Direct, 67% of women quit exercise in the winter (with younger women being more at risk of dropping out). Across all genders, 48% said they found it much harder to stick to their normal exercise routine during the winter, with Brits set to spend 882 hours on the sofa this season (no doubt watching Am I Being Unreasonable).
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It’s not just the weather that puts so many people off, of course: seven in 10 women say that darker evenings make it harder to find well-lit running routes – and that stops them from heading outdoors altogether.
Now, you know as well as we do the health benefits of moving all year long. According to a 2020 YouGov poll, 27% of Brits don’t manage a single 30-minute exercise session a week, and we know that women in particular have experienced a massive drop-off since lockdown. So the fact that even more will be put off by darker mornings and wetter evenings is worrying.
To be clear: many people aren’t not exercising because they’re lazy or don’t like moving. Time, money and energy are all in short supply and they’re all needed to sustain a fitness habit. The irony, of course, is that the more time and energy you put into fitness, the more time and energy you get out of it in the long-term. But you’ve got to be able to overcome the initial barriers to reap those investment rewards.
With that in mind, we’re here to remind you of the benefits to carving out just 10 minutes to move – and which have nothing to do with the standard health markers.
6 (non-health) reasons to exercise throughout winter
Exercise can give us more energy
It takes energy to move but you reap what you sow. When we exercise, oxygen and nutrients are moved around the body more efficiently – which can give us a boost. But exercise also helps us to use stored up energy, and that means priming the body to use energy more efficiently.
In fact, a study published in the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics found that just 20 minutes of light movement is enough to experience a significant reduction in fatigue.
Researchers split participants into three groups: the first did 20 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise three times a week for six weeks. The second did low-intensity aerobic exercise of the same time period and the third group didn’t exercise at all. The low intensity group (who did the equivalent of a leisurely, easy walk) reported a 65% drop in feelings of fatigue, compared to a 49% drop in the more intense group. Proof you don’t have to do much to reap the benefits.
Movement boosts mood (in spite of dismal news)…
A 2020 review of the relationship between running and mental health, published in the International Journal Of Environmental Research And Public Health, looked at over 116 studies and found that “running […] can improve mood and mental health and that the type of running can lead to differential effects”.
Away from the labs, moving around can have a really positive impact on how we think about problems. When we’re angry, we might storm out of a room and ‘walk it off’ around the block. In times of stress, we might go to get some fresh air. A run or walk offers the perfect window to let difficult or repressed thoughts come and go – allotting that period of time to wallowing or feeling stressed. When you stop, the intensity of the emotion can fade. You’re never as angry when you finish jogging as you are while jogging – take that from me.
…and can help us to process emotions
A 2019 study found that running activates the brain networks responsible for emotional processing. Getting participants to walk or run on a treadmill while assessing changes in the connections in their brains, researchers found that both forms of exercise triggered a significant increase in mood. But while walking stimulated parts of the brain associated with cognitive control and attention, running activated networks involved with emotional processing.
It helps with problem-solving at work
There’s nothing like a brisk walk or jog to help think through a particular problem. It might be a personnel issue in the office, a technical problem or just general work malaise… all of which can be in some way helped through movement. A 2017 study published in the journal Environmental Health and Preventative Medicine found that regular physical activity can improve our problem-solving abilities. In fact, just intending to start exercising regularly was found to boost thinking power.
It’s a rare chance to listen to our favourite shows
I don’t know about you, but the only times I really get to listen to my favourite podcasts is while on the move. When you live with other people, it’s difficult to play shows out loud and not be interrupted. When you’re out running, walking or cycling, however, it’s just you and your pod.
Exercise can help ease aches and pains
Sitting at a desk all day or standing around for long periods of time can lead to lower back pain, sore wrists and strained necks – all of which can be helped with exercise. It’s not just yoga that can ease tightness; running can also help to relieve back pain. A 2016 study found that aerobic exercise should be considered a form of effective treatment for lower back pain because it increases the bloodflow and nutrients to the soft tissues – improving the healing process and reducing stiffness.
Walking or running dates foster closer connections
We all got used to meeting friends for walks in the park during lockdown – and for the most part, we really enjoyed those heart-to-hearts. Now that everything is back open, you might have stopped meeting up with mates or dates in the outdoors. But those walking social events were brilliant: they cost very little, you get in your steps, they offer an opportunity to explore somewhere local or new and we’re far more open when we’re on the move.
Walking is so good at fostering conversations. That’s because our senses are sharper when we’re outdoors and that means that we’re able to access new ideas and topics. As neuroscientist Shane O’Mara previously told Stylist, “Ideas that would have been just below the level of consciousness when you’re seated can bubble into consciousness because more of the brain is active (on a walk).”
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