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GardenSMART :: Exercising Inside or Outside in Fall and Winter

Exercising Inside or Outside in Fall and Winter

Michael F. Roizen, MD, Cleveland Clinic Chief Wellness Officer

If you enjoy gardening, walking, cycling or other warm-weather activities, it's hard when a serious wind chill or snowstorm makes it impossible to get outside. Fortunately, there are many indoor activities to help keep you fit, happy and looking great until the spring breezes blow.

The list of inside activities includes indoor gardening, jumping rope, swimming, strength training, yoga, aerobics classes, or using a treadmill or other exercise equipment.

To encourage you to embrace working out during fall and winter months, here's some information that will help you gain the body-and-soul benefits that come from daily physical activity.

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Outdoor benefits in winter

One 2011 study ( found that "compared with exercising indoors, exercising in natural environments was associated with greater feelings of revitalization and positive engagement, decreases in tension, confusion, anger and depression, and increased energy." The researchers did caution that there weren't a lot of high quality studies on the topic, but you know how great it makes you feel!

Outdoor risks in winter

To help you feel more positive about exercising indoors in the winter, here are some potential health hazards associated with outdoor winter exercising.

  • Cold air can be hard on the lungs and cardiovascular system. (That's not smart if you have asthma, heart disease, poor circulation or Reynaud's disease.)
  • Falling on icy patches can cause serious injury.
  • If you get too cold, hypothermia is a 9-1-1 emergency. It happens when the body automatically starts shuttling blood from your skin to your vital organs to keep them warm. It's signaled by shivering, slurred speech, lack of coordination and fatigue. (For more information:
  • Frostnip and frostbite are always a danger. Frostnip says, "Get inside!" Frostbite is a medical concern; tissue can be damaged permanently.
  • Cold air traps particulate matter and other pollutants close to the ground, so air quality can suffer. (For more information:

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The benefits of indoor physical activity in winter

Even if you're resistant to exercising indoors, we're betting we can convince you of its virtues.

  • Think about how much less time it takes if you're at home, where you're going to do that 45-minute yoga routine or sweat along with a Jillian Michaels video.
  • At a gym, you get the reinforcement and socialization that comes with going to a designated place for a specific committed workout.
  • At home or the gym, it's so easy to mix up your routines. One day you can jog, walk the treadmill or ride the stationary bike. The next, you're doing an aerobics or stretch class, and after that there's strength training with bands or hand weights. Never boring and great for avoiding overuse injuries.

But indoors or out, be aware of air quality

Exercising means you're breathing more often and more deeply than usual and taking more air into your lungs, so if air quality is poor, you may breathe in more harmful pollutants. Also, breathing through your mouth – it's only natural when you exercise – doesn't filter air like breathing through your nose does. More pollutants enter your airways and smaller inhaled particles can get deeper into your lungs. The more pollutants you breathe in the more likely you are to experience their negative effects. (For more information:

So make sure you work out or garden – and gardening is working out! – in well ventilated environments with low pollution levels whether you are at home or at the gym. Everything from animal hairs to dust mites and particulate matter from a fireplace or wood-burning stove can provoke allergies and asthma.


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