It’s 5:30 p.m. and your gym is swarming with people—stinky, sweaty, coughing people.
Winter’s chilly temperatures send many exercisers running for the cover of a temperature-controlled Globo Gym, and perhaps no time is more packed than the period right after work, when it seems like everyone wants to get in a quick pump before heading home for dinner.
The result is a crowded workout, which according to some studies might not be as effective as the one you’d get if you were training in the great outdoors.
Training in the gym is better than not training at all, but there are a surprising number of benefits to layering up and exercising in the cold. Here are seven reasons why you should suck it up and train outside even during winter’s frigid temperatures.
You’ll Burn More Calories
In colder temperatures, the body needs to work harder to maintain its core temperature. One study done in Japan found that subjects who merely spent time in a colder environment (two hours a day for six weeks) reduced their body fat percentage. Frigid temps also activate brown fat, a unique form of fat that fervently burns calories and sucks fat from other parts of your body to fuel itself.
You’ll Avoid Germs
There is a common misconception that the cold will make you sick. In reality, the opposite is true. People tend to get sick more often during the winter because they spend more time indoors, in close proximity to one another. The gym can harbor germs of all sorts in many places—on the exercise machines, dumbbells, mats, shower floor, you name it. And you know those spray bottles floating around? People don’t always use them after they sweat all over the incline bench.
Exercising outside can reduce your exposure to those germs. You’re far less likely to get coughed on when you’re on a run or doing Pull-Ups at a park.
You’ll Breathe Better Air
You don’t need to kick a stranger’s ankles doing Burpees to know that gyms, and particularly group classes, can be overcrowded. As a result, the air can get really congested. The New York Times recently reported on a study by the University of Lisbon in Portugal and Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands that examined indoor pollutant levels at 11 fitness centers. They found that all of the gyms were homes to high amounts of dust, formaldehyde and carbon dioxide.
Researchers observed that most people breathe in through their mouths during intense exercise, bypassing those important filtration mechanisms in their noses. Another study published by PLoS One found reason to believe that poor air flow and ventilation in crowded spaces creates a higher risk for respiratory infection.
You’ll Feel Like You’re Actually Getting Somewhere
Running in place or loping on the elliptical are both well and good, but they’re also painfully boring. You can climb a thousand flights on a Stairmaster, but the view never changes. But take this same effort outside and the possibilities for what you’ll see, hear and smell are limitless. Get out and discover.
You’ll Have More Fun
Take up a winter sport like skiing, snowboarding or snowshoeing and you’ll feel like a kid again. To kick up the intensity, try cross-country skiing, which is one of the most grueling, calorie-torching cardio exercises around. And don’t scoff at shoveling snow. Clearing off your driveway the old fashioned way will have you sweating and burning off those holiday cookies. Just remember to use your legs, not your back.
You’ll Get More Vitamin D
During cold winter months with fewer hours of daylight, we’re more susceptible to seasonal affective disorder, or “the winter blues.” One reason for this is that our bodies largely depend on the sun for vitamin D, an essential nutrient our skin produces when it’s exposed to the sun’s UV and UVB rays. Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones and a properly working immune system, among other important bodily functions. Even a few more minutes of sunlight on your face can go a long way to making you feel better, especially during the winter.
You’ll Feel Peace of Mind
A study done in the United Kingdom compared and assessed the effects of working out indoors versus outdoors. The results: those who exercised in natural environments had “greater feelings of revitalization, positive engagement, decreases in tension, confusion, anger and depression, and increased energy.”
Simply put, you’ll feel better if you go outside and get moving. You might even enjoy some scenery. Just be sure to layer up with the proper gear, preferably with heat insulating, moisture-wicking fabrics. The American Heart Association’s recently published Cold Weather Fitness Guide is a great place to start if you need advice.