This past summer felt like a reprieve from the coronavirus pandemic. The number of cases, hospitalizations, and ICU visits sharply fell, due partly to the fact that people spend more time outdoors in the summer. It’s well-documented that the risk of infection is much lower outdoors than indoors. But now that we’re into December, temperatures are chilly in much of the country; winter hibernation has already begun. Not surprisingly, as people spend more time indoors and presumably exercise less, the coronavirus metrics are headed in the wrong direction.
The question then is if the risk of infection is lower when outdoors, how can you enjoy the health benefits of being outside when the weather is abominable?
Ideas for Spending Time Outdoors In Winter
If you have a backyard patio, splurge on a portable patio heater. Table top heaters cost only about $100. Commercial gas heaters run a few hundred dollars more, but if you can afford it, the expense will be well worth it. If there’s a gale force wind with sub zero temperatures, having just one commercial patio heater probably won’t be much help. However, if it’s a balmy 25 degrees on a brilliant Minneapolis winter’s night, a patio heater, like the ones restaurants use outdoors, may be just the thing that allows you to enjoy dining al fresco with friends and family.
You’ll also want to invest in bulky throw blankets and fire pits.
Obviously, paying for an outdoor patio heater, throw blankets and fire pits can set you back nearly $1000, if not more than that. Again, if you have the funds, it will be well worth it.
There’s No Such Thing As Bad Weather, Only Bad Clothes
Also well worth the cost of staying warm and cozy is investing in the latest cold-weather gear. You don’t have to spend over $1000 to purchase a Canada Goose Expedition Parka. But for a tenth of the price you can buy a battery-powered heated hoodie sweatshirt. And for just $25 or so, you can buy a mask that you’ll be actually glad to wear. Carhartt, a popular ski apparel company, sells a ski helmet liner mask. But you don’t have to be racing downhill slaloms to wear it. Covering half your nose and all of your mouth, the ski mask will keep you cozy and protect your noggin from the biting wind when you go for a brisk outdoor walk.
Eddie Bauer offers fleece-lined canvas pants for $50 . Under these, you can keep your lower body toasty by wearing winter leggings.
A final word on cold-weather gear. Make sure you wear at least three layers. The base layer will be your longjohn underwear/leggings. The middle layer should consist of a fleece or puffy jacket while the outer layer would be a shell jacket and pants. Don’t forget to buy insulated or battery-powered heated gloves to keep your fingers warm. If you suffer from poor circulation and chronically-cold feet, you can also purchase rechargeable battery-powered socks!
The Benefits of Fresh Air
One of the biggest benefits of being outside in summer is having your skin absorb vitamin D. (That is, if you have enough skin exposed and don’t use sunscreen before having your skin exposed for 10-15 minutes.) But in winter time, the sun’s UV rays are at too much of an indirect angle for your skin to be able to synthesize usable vitamin D. This is why people who live in cold weather climates during late fall, winter and early spring should take a vitamin D supplement.
But even without the benefits of vitamin D, there are still plenty of reasons to get outside in the coldest months of the year. Being outside, especially in a park or other bucolic natural setting, reduces anxiety and depression. Viewing nature has been associated with shorter hospital stays and other benefits
Fresh air oxygenates and cleans the lungs, lowers blood pressure and heart rate and activates the body’s parasympathetic nervous system. This is the branch of the autonomic nervous system that, when activated, turns off the body’s chronic stress response.
Of course, it’s much easier to stay inside and be sedentary. Going outside when it’s freezing out takes willpower. But if you need motivation to go outside in the winter, staying healthy during a pandemic should do the trick.