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Cold-Weather Jumpstart: A Brisk Walk Can Reduce Stress and Boost Your Mood

The Hidden Stress Reliever You’ve Been Ignoring

Nothing clears my mind and rejuvenates my soul like a brisk walk. And, I’m not talking about a power walk. By brisk, I mean cool. Or cold. Or near freezing in some instances. We don’t all live in sunny California or on the beaches of Florida. For many of us, winter is around the corner and temperatures have dropped. There’s even snow on the ground in some parts of the United States. Although the weather outside might be frightful, don’t let that stop you from walking. I don’t. Whether it’s a walk around town or a walk in the woods, a brisk walk can reduce stress and boost your mood.

Cold Weather + A Walk = A Great Stress Reliever and More

One of the best ways to relieve the stresses of the day is to simply walk them away. Research has shown that walking can calm you down by sparking nerve cells in the brain that relax the senses and reduce stress hormones. Walking is an effective intervention for depression and has a mood-lifting effect like more strenuous forms of exercise. Several studies have even found that walking is better for you than the gym. Adults who regularly take a brisk walk for more than 30 minutes tend to have a lower body mass index and smaller waist than those who take part in sports or pay for a gym membership. Remember: the energy you use is more important than the intensity of the workout!

Now, add in the cooler weather. It may be cold outside, but that’s no excuse to stay indoors. We already know that a burst of cold air can wake you up and get you on your feet. There’s also evidence that cold weather can increase your metabolism, improve blood sugar, and help you lose weight. Exposure to the cold can “stress” the body into turning the bad fat into good fat. In addition, researchers recently discovered what’s called beige fat, a certain type of cells that help regulate energy balance. These cells are only produced with exposure to cold. Pretty cool.

In addition, spending time in nature has also been linked to stress reduction. Several studies have revealed that spending time outdoors can reduce anxiety, depression, and improve your focus. Interacting with nature can have similar effects as meditating. Even when it’s cold, taking a brisk walk outside can improve your memory and attention span by up to 20 percent. You might enjoy a walk more in the spring and summer, but you’ll still notice incredible results from a brisk walk in the dead of winter.

Take a Brisk Walk with Friends for Added Benefits

Although I love the downtime of walking alone, I also enjoy a brisk walk with some of my neighborhood friends. Spending time with friends has been shown to improve your stress resilience and lower your stress levels. In fact, social support is a significant predictor of a long, healthy life. Walking with friends is also a great chance to bond and share stories. You can make new friends by joining a local walking group.

And, don’t forget about Rover. Your four-legged BFF counts. Grab your fur baby’s harness and head out for a brisk walk around the block or a walk in the woods… just pup and parent.

Quick Tips from Sanity & Self’s Experts

Cold weather is the perfect time to get active and healthy by jump-starting a new walking routine. Dress appropriately for the lower temps and surface conditions, and make sure you stretch before and after you hit the road or trail for a walk in the woods. Stretching helps loosen your muscles and prevents injuries. Whatever surface you’re on, Sanity & Self’s fitness trainer Tommy Stracke urges you to connect your mind to your muscles. “Every time your foot hits the ground, feel those muscles. Stay central, keep your chest up, elongate your spine. Get your posture tall,” encourages Stracke in his session Sunrise Walk and Jog, which can be done at sunrise, midday, or sunset.

When you’re just starting out, Sanity & Self’s fitness trainer Erica Stenz says, “It’s really important that you gradually build up mileage and endurance.” Also, be safe. When the weather is too cold, it can be dangerous and cause hypothermia or even cardiac arrest. Icy conditions also make for dangerous treks. Consult with your doctor before beginning any cold-weather walking routine or if you have concerns about the temperature or weather conditions.

The cool weather might be here, but the birds are chirping. The sun is in your face. Who cares if Jack Frost is at your heels? Kick him to the curb and get your brisk walk on.

For an empowered guided brisk outdoor walk and low-impact jog, check out Tommy Stracke’s session Sunrise Walk and Jog or Erica Stenz’s session First Steps Back Walk and Run in the Sanity & Self app today.

Originally published on Sanity & Self on 12/2/19

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