Why running in colder weather is easier and better for your health

When the mercury drops, so too can your motivation to run. Dark and frosty mornings, bitter winds and soaking rain can freeze the best laid plans. Before you stay in for a Netflix marathon or head to the gym for a treadmill run, remember these benefits of running in cold weather.

It's easier

Despite what you may think, our bodies find it easier to run in cold weather. Research by St Mary's University in London found that runners' level of comfort was higher in cold conditions. The tests saw subjects run for 40 minutes at 70 per cent of their VO2 max in a heat lab where temperatures ranged from 8°C and 24°C. The runners were assessed on the differences in sweat loss, heart rate, blood lactate and thermal sensation – or comfort level.

The runners rated their comfort level more than 30 per cent higher when running in the cold. They also said their ability to sustain the effort in colder temperatures was greater. In other words, you feel stronger and more confident when you are running in cold weather.

Lifts your mood

Although more research is needed into the cause of SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder, medical professionals think that it's related to lack of sunlight during the shorter autumn and winter days, which might stop a part of the brain called the hypothalamus working properly.  It's sad if you get SAD living in Australia, but nevertheless the short daylight hours can leave runners feeling short-changed.

Running helps release powerful hormones that help combat this depression. A study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology found that people who ran outdoors reported increased energy, decreased feelings of depression, and were more likely to repeat their workouts.

Run Melbourne ambassador Rob Mills is lacing up for the 10km event on 28 July. Despite the cold weather, he's been training up to three times a week and says,

"Running is always a good energy booster. It helps clear my head and produces endorphins so the payoff is way greater than not running at all."

Improve endurance

Winter running can offer benefits you don't get in summer. For instance, training in cold weather can improve endurance. That's because in colder temperatures your heart doesn't have to work as hard, you sweat less, and expend less energy, all of which means you can exercise more efficiently.

Burn fat

Studies also have shown that exercising in cold weather can transform white fat, specifically belly and thigh fat, into calorie-burning brown fat.

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When it's cold, you might start shivering because muscle movement helps heat up the body. Shivering can burn around 100 calories in 15 minutes. Our muscles secrete a hormone called irisin that stimulates heat production from white and brown fat cells stored in the body. That's why when you shiver, not only do your muscles burn calories, using glycogen stores, but also your fat stores burn calories.

Even if you're not at the shivering stage, your body is trying to warm-up, burning calories in the process.

In a 2013 study investigated the effects of exposure to mildly cold temperatures on calorie burning. They discovered that even in mildly cold temperatures, the body burns more calories by increasing heat production.

If you're still unsure about running in cold temperatures, try these tips to make it less miserable.

Run with a group

Running with friends or as part of a running group will help you forget how cold it is. The company and chit chat can make the fly by, and runners tend to run faster in groups, which will help you warm up quickly. There's also the added benefit of being accountable, which can help to reduce the likelihood of you of pulling the pin on a training session.

Rug up

As the saying goes: "It's not poor weather, it's poor choice of clothing." Wearing appropriate running clothing will help you stay comfortable and dry in frigid conditions. Runners can vary in their sensitivity to cold weather, so experiment to see what works for you. General rules to follow include: Don't wear too many heavy layers of clothing as these can make you sweat and leave you chilled. Remember that once you start moving your body will warm up, so don't overdress. You should be slightly cool when you set off for your run.

Mills recommends wearing long sleeves and a neck warmer when running in winter.

"It's only cold for a bit, your body warms up pretty quickly."

Warm up

Warm up before leaving the house so the cold doesn't take your breath away. Do some dynamic exercises like walking lunges, squats, high knees, butt kicks or skipping on the spot to get the blood moving around your body.

The high of crossing the finish line inspires running fanatic Laura Hill to clock up the kilometres each week. Whether you're a newbie to the running scene or a seasoned athlete, Laura brings the latest running trends and gear to readers across Australia. With a day job in the corporate world and a busy toddler, Laura loves nothing more than lacing up her runners and hitting the pavement to sharpen her mind and challenge her body.

Follow Laura Hill on Twitter

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