Walk your way to health this winter

Woman walking in a snowy woodland

With our wings being somewhat clipped at the moment, many of us have found real pleasure in walking and getting some much-needed fresh air. 

There are lots of health benefits to walking but some of them you may be surprised to hear.  And walking in the cold weather is especially beneficial.

Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, tells us why and how to get the most enjoyment and benefits from walking.

The benefits of walking in the cold

For those who are brave enough to undertake and appreciate the benefits of swimming in the sea during the winter months, you may already know that the cold water is incredibly beneficial for relieving stress and instilling feelings of calm.  This is because the extremely cold water stimulates the vagus nerve in the neck, responsible for pushing the body’s nervous system into a calming parasympathetic state, rather than revving up the sympathetic nervous system. This can also happen when the neck is exposed to cold generally, hence walking in the snow (without a scarf just for a bit), is a great stressbuster (and very beautiful too).

So, get out there this festive season and enjoy some frosty walks in your local area.

Here are my top tips for an enjoyable winter walk.

Walk after a meal not before

Walking soon after you’ve finished a meal really helps the body better metabolise glucose and insulin, so food is less likely to be stored as fat.  Anyone wanting to lose weight or trying to get blood sugar in balance should walk after the main meal of the day which will really help both situations. Obviously, you’ll have more energy to put into the walk rather than ‘running on empty’.

Dress appropriately

If you’re feeling up to a longer challenge, then why not plan a route that will take a few hours, pack an energising lunch, and enjoy some real time out.  Even though you’re moving and maybe climbing some hills, you can still get really cold when temperatures plummet.  The key to staying comfortable during longer walks is layering.  Always have a close-fitting base layer and then put on as many additional layers as you need and make sure you either wear or pack a waterproof jacket, just in case.  Body temperatures can drop really quickly if clothes and body get drenched so it’s important to respect the weather at this time of year, especially if you are heading for the hills.  Waterproof over-trousers might be another essential item, again depending on the terrain.

Woman in winter gear on a walk

Most body heat is lost from the head so a warm hat is another essential item and can be a real game-changer when body temperature starts to drop.  In terms of keeping the neck warm, then a scarf is important as the vagus nerve doesn’t need to be exposed to the elements for long for the beneficial effects to be felt.

Pack an energising lunch

Obviously, you’re slightly limited in how much you can pack in terms of lunch but clearly you need to re-fuel.  More calories are burnt during the cold weather as the body tries to maintain body temperature.  However, a huge feast is not needed, just a combination of protein and carbohydrate.  Great choices would be egg with a little mayo on wholemeal bread, tinned tuna and sweetcorn wholemeal pittas or haloumi and salad on sourdough bread.

Woman with a hot thermos on a wintery walk

Having a hot drink mid-walk really helps lift spirits and warm the body; it’s easy to get cold really quickly once you stop for lunch.  Pack a flask of your favourite hot drink and maybe a small, sweet treat for when energy levels start to flag at the end of the day. And don’t forget to take some water with you too.

Walking is great for boosting circulation and encouraging blood flow to the brain, burning calories, keeping fit and busting stress.  And winter walking can be even more enjoyable if you’re fully prepared. Enjoy!

Stay well.

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All images: Shutterstock

 

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