Avoid cabin fever and embrace winter adventures, for health’s sake

Above, sisters enjoy a ride down the hill on their sled. A study from Michigan State University Extension found that just five minutes of outdoor activity in winter significantly improves mental health, turning the cold season into an opportunity for wellness and joy. (Photo courtesy of Metro Creative)

A study from Michigan State University Extension found that just five minutes of outdoor activity in winter significantly improves mental health, turning the cold season into an opportunity for wellness and joy.

From exhilarating treks through snow-covered forests to the childlike joy of building a snowman, more and more evidence suggests that one of the best things anyone can do for their physical health and mental wellness in winter is to spend time outside.

The opportunities to revel in the beauty of the season are endless, and any time spent outdoors is perfect for beating back the doldrums of winter.

For people who want to shake off cabin fever and are willing to bundle up, winter can be one of the best times to get outside, get moving, and try something new. Colder months are perfect for exploring places far and near, and research suggests braving the elements provides numerous health benefits, including a boost for mental health, mood, and memory, a strengthening of the immune system, and a reduction of stress.

“Don’t overlook winter,” says Nick Nerbonne, media, digital, and industry relations director at Travel Michigan. “A saying I’ve had for years is ‘Winter is beautiful.’ We all love to travel, and travel is good for many reasons. Look for an opportunity to travel this winter to go try something new.”

Shaking off the blahs of winter may be challenging some days, but winter beckons adventurers to bundle up, get moving, and explore the world around them. Whether they’re going for a stroll around the neighborhood, whizzing down the slopes at a ski resort, or going on a scenic nature walk, winter is an optimal time to get outside.

Get Outside and Get Moving

For people who set New Year’s resolutions to exercise and get healthier, winter is the perfect time to get out from underneath a warm blanket, don boots, scarves, hats, and gloves, and get outside. Though daylight hours are shorter and temperatures are colder, research shows many benefits to being outdoors and breathing in fresh air.

Not only is outdoor air less polluted, but fresh winter air can also aid in increasing energy levels, boosting mood, lowering heart rate, and improving digestion. Additionally, being outside on sunny winter days helps people gain a healthy dose of vitamin D, most often absorbed through sunlight. Vitamin D can help combat seasonal affective disorder, control infections, and help the body produce dopamine, commonly known as the “feel-good hormone.”

“Being outside does so much for your mental health,” Nerbonne says. “You hear people say that it’s the grey skies that (can make them feel down) and they don’t see the sun as much. If you decided not to watch Netflix for a weekend and spent time outside, you might be surprised just how much good that does for your mental health.”

Michigan can be a winter haven for those eager to get outside. The state offers opportunities for ice fishing, cross-country skiing, hiking, snowshoeing, snow tubing, fat tire biking, and opportunities to participate in winter Olympic sports like curling and luge.

In many cases, engaging in outdoor winter recreation can be a fun and effective way to burn calories without even realizing it.

Livestrong estimates that downhill skiing burns between 250 and 510 an hour in adults; snowboarding burns between 350 and 600 calories an hour; cross-country skiing burns between 450 and 800 calories an hour; ice skating and sledding burn almost 400 to 700 calories per hour.

“Because you’re burning calories, you might be surprised that you stay warm,” Nerbonne explains. “Physically, it’s obvious that if you’re outside and moving around [it’s] good for your body.”

Museums: A Wintertime Boost for Mental Health

Staying healthy during the winter also means staying mentally healthy. Spending time outside has a wide range of health benefits, but indoor activities such as visiting museums come with their own rewards as well.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that museums, especially art museums, can help reduce depression and anxiety. Art museums and other kinds of museums help combat isolation, reduce cortisol levels (the hormone related to stress), and are ultimately a rewarding experience for visitors of all ages.

A visit to a museum can promote positive emotions and feelings of engagement through many stand-alone and immersive exhibits.

Michigan has many renowned art museums, including the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Grand Rapids Museum, and the University of Michigan Museum of Art, which can help promote mental health. The state also has museums dedicated to music, history, ex-presidents, innovation, and more that are perfect for family outings and help give every member of the family a mood boost.

A Fun Way To Dine in Wintertime

Getting outside during the winter isn’t just limited to strenuous activity. Many Midwest restaurants and breweries embrace winter with gusto, offering igloo dining to customers looking for a unique dining experience. Some eateries offer specials during the winter, and the heated igloos make a cozy environment for getting together with friends and family.

Try Something New and Make the Most of Winter

Nerbonne says it’s important not to overlook any possibilities for gaining a new perspective this winter. For museum enthusiasts, that might mean strapping on snowshoes and trekking through the woods. For outdoorsy die-hards, it might mean visiting a museum or watching a performance at a music venue.

“I don’t think it’s one or the other; there’s time for both,” Nerbonne shares. “Everybody can enjoy both.”

Winter can be equal parts bone-chillingly cold, snowy, and icy, but those willing to embrace every aspect of winter and get outside to explore are in for a surprise. From unique local museums to scenic forest treks on skis and snowshoes to thrilling ski and snow tube runs, the opportunities for winter fun are endless.

By getting off the couch and exploring, people of all ages can get their blood pumping, their imaginations wandering, and their moods boosted to enjoy the best winter can offer.


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