I hiked one of my favorite winter trails a few days ago. The abundance of volcanic rock in the area reflecting the heat of the sun makes it one of the warmest hikes around. Snow and ice still covered over half the footpath, courtesy of a weather system that enshrouded parts of northern Arizona for over a week. Ascending the slick ice was a little frightening (foolishly, I didn’t wear my Yaktrax). But, lucky for me, the sun had cleared the descent. The beauty of the entire mountain was transformed due to the snow, causing me to stop at times and assess if I was still on the trail.
My trek through the winter woods elated me with picturesque views of the earth, crisp air, and azure sky. I began thinking of other benefits Nature was conferring on me, and the idea for this article was born. In addition to the enjoyment of exploring a seemingly new landscape, with its snow, ice, and leafless deciduous trees, below are 5 more benefits of hiking during winter months.
- Weight loss. A Scientific American article reports that brown fat, mitochondria-containing adipose tissue that converts calories into heat, is activated and increased with exercise & in cold temperatures. Recent research reveals that brown fat can reduce excess stores even in the obese, due in part to its browning activity of white fat. The article also says this calorie-burning phenom can lessen chances of metabolic syndrome, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, making cold weather hiking a great formula for weight loss and physical health in general.
- Increased fitness levels, faster. If your heart is healthy (and only if your heart is healthy!), trekking in cold weather can make it even stronger. Cold temperatures cause arteries to tighten, restricting blood flow and reducing the oxygen supply to the heart, a WebMD write-up states. These factors cause the heart to work harder, improving endurance and respiratory functions.
- Enhanced immunity. According to this post from the ION (Intelligence of Nature) blog, founded by Dr. Zach Bush, a physician specializing in internal medicine, endocrinology, and hospice care, Respiratory infections are especially prevalent in the winter months for two reasons: enclosed spaces and (lower) humidity. These conditions (as well as the holidays) often result in us eating more, exercising less, and failing to consider hydration. Hoofing it in the cold, mineralized water in hand, allows us to mobilize our tissues, deeply hydrating our bodies.
- Improved mental health. Hiking during winter can help with the winter blues and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). An article from Mayo Clinic suggests on cold or cloudy days, outdoor light can help — especially within two hours of getting up in the morning, and further, exercise and other types of physical activity help relieve stress and anxiety, thereby reducing SAD symptoms.
- Heightened sense of awe. Greater Good Magazine, published by the University of California, Berkeley, reports researchers are uncovering the benefits of awe for clear thinking, good health, and close relationships. Witnessing the splendor of deer, birds, and weasels (among many other animals) who change colors in winter induces wonder and delight. Once during a cold weather hike, I saw a small herd of deer wearing lovely dark chocolate-colored coats. Spotting these beauties in their winter finest filled my heart with gratitude.
Although the weather is not presently balmy, it’s an ideal time to get outside and do some hiking. I hope one of the benefits mentioned above piques your interest & motivates you to get on a trail. Nature has a profusion of benefits just waiting for you.
Blessings on the Winter Trail,
The content of this article is for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult with a qualified health care professional before acting on any information presented herein. Any statements about the possible health benefits of any subject discussed have not been evaluated by medical professionals or the Food & Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease or illness.