I know it’s a couple of months away yet, but the nights drawing in is a sure-fire indicator that winter will soon be upon us. It’s difficult to get motivated to go out running or to the gym when it’s dark when you leave the house for work in the morning and dark when you return in the evening. For most people, energy levels are much depleted in the darker winter months. This is due, predominantly, to a lack of sunlight triggering an increase in melatonin production, causing a general feeling of tiredness.
As tempting as it is to hang up the workout gear and running shoes when temperatures drop, it’s important not to, as the benefits of exercise are far too important to ignore:
1. Exercise improves cognition. A study from researchers in Montréal (Dupuy et l, 2015) suggests that exercise improves executive thinking (a cognitive suite of functions that control inhibitions, working memory and attention), and reaction times. A further study from London (Stimpson et al, 2018) suggests that exercise improves angiogenesis (the formation of blood cells) and blood circulation
3. Exercise improves society. If you decide to take an exercise class, or workout with people in a group, this has been shown to improve health more widely in a community as people are more encouraged to exercise. It also improves social interactions that combat loneliness (Coalter, 2005)
4. Exercise improves cardiovascular function. The heart is a muscle, and like any other muscle in the body, it needs to be maintained by physical activity to remain optimal and prevent further degradation. Exercise also works to increase the size of the heart, helping it to function more effectively. All this helps to stave off cardiovascular disease (Wei et al, 2015)
5. Exercise prevents disease. Exercise is well documented in preventing and rehabilitating acute and chronic diseases by improving immune system function; vital in the colder weather (Gabriel and Zierath, 2017).
If going to the gym isn’t your thing, the good news is that exercising outdoors may be more effective in mood enhancement than hitting the weights room. A study by Wagner et al (2016) found that people who participated in physical activity outdoors enjoyed the exercise more and were more satisfied with their workout than people who exercised indoors. This helped to reinforce the benefits of a regular exercise regimen, meaning that people who exercised outdoors were more likely to continue to do so.
There you have it, no more excuses to not exercise more frequently! From disease prevention to improved mental function, exercise really does seem to be a wonder drug.
As always, seek medical advice when starting a new exercise regimen.