Jan 20, 2022 1:00 PM

Author: University of Utah Health Communications


As the temperatures drop and days become shorter, our physical and mental health can sometimes take a toll. The winter months can be hard and leave you feeling hopeless, less productive or drained of energy. The good news is there are different ways to be active during the winter which is important for not only our physical wellness but our mental wellness as well. Here’s why:

Getting Outside Can Make You Feel Better

Spending time outside is not only essential for our well-being, but it can positively benefit our mental and physical health. By simply being outside in the sunlight, you are triggering the first response the body needs to create vitamin D, which is essential for normal growth and bone development. Research has even shown that exposure to vitamin D can play an important role in mood regulation.

Jason Hunziker, MD, chief of the division of adult psychiatry at Huntsman Mental Health Institute, says, “Some studies have shown that being outside triggers physiologic responses in our body that help reduce stress levels. Some feel that we have a strong connection to nature because of the way we evolved from living in nature for survival and that helps us feel peaceful in that setting.”

Further research shows that spending at least 120 minutes a week outside and in nature can promote better health and overall well-being. And even better, the activity does not matter – whether you are physically active or just relaxing, the act of being outside is what matters.

Exercise is Important for Your Mental Health

Exercise can take a bad day and turn it into a good one. There are a variety of positive side effects connected to exercise, including increased self-esteem, improved cognitive function, and reduced physical and emotional stress. According to Hunziker, while you are exercising, well-oxygenated blood is being pumped to your brain, which increases the release of neurochemicals, which in turn decreases the release of stress-related chemicals. Exercise can also improve neurotransmitter levels and increase the ability of the nervous system to respond from both internal and external stress.

Even if you are unable to commit to exercise for long periods of time, whether from lack of time or lack of energy, having just five to ten minutes of exercise a day can significantly improve your mental and physical well-being. It’s important to follow a routine and create consistency when it comes to exercise, so set a reminder for yourself every day and check it off the list.

Ways to Get Outside and Stay Active

The winter months can make it difficult to get outside, however, there are still a wide variety of outdoor activities that can get you moving. Pack a nutritious lunch and head up to the slopes, go on a walk around your neighborhood or grab your family and friends and explore the parks and hikes around you. If you just take a moment to look around, you will notice the endless ways to get moving and out into the sun, even during these shorter days. 

How to Stay Safe

While it is important to get outside and get exercise, it is also important to stay safe, especially as we continue to navigate flu and cold season, and the global pandemic. As always, prioritize your body, and properly care for it. As you dive into new activities, proceed with caution by properly fueling your body with water and healthy food, and know that sometimes you just need to take it easy. If you find yourself struggling with a lingering physical injury, find a medical professional near you. Regardless of how many precautions you take, you could still experience some sort of injury.

Help is Always Out There

As we navigate the next couple of winter and spring months, know that help is out there. Like other treatments for depression, some individuals can respond well to exercise and spending time outdoors, but it may not be for everyone.  If you find yourself needing additional help, find a medical professional near you. Help is always available.

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