Should we hibernate during winter? Bunker down and snuggle up?
When my yoga teacher suggested this idea in a class recently, I lapped it up. Snuggling in when it’s freezing outdoors is totally irresistible.
Yes, I thought. I really should get in synch with nature and hibernate throughout winter.
But as I rode to work in the fresh morning air, buzzing from exercising outside, I decided my yoga teacher got it wrong. I’m not a hedgehog and I don’t need to hibernate. In fact, getting outdoors, into the fresh, crisp air, is exactly what I needed to counter the winter blues.
Most of us innately know getting outside in winter feels great. It clears brain fog, gives us a healthy helping of happy hormones, exercises our resilience muscle, treats Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and helps us squeeze more lust out of life. Yet we resist.
The natural exhilaration we experience from plunging into freezing water, or hiking in the snow, or bike riding in the wintertime, is rarely enough to motivate us to crawl out of our cave.
The Scandinavians know better. They have been practicing cold exposure together, using icy plunges as a path to health, for centuries. And more recently, cold endurance world-record holder, Ice-Man Wim Hof, has developed a practice of using icy water and breathing as a proven path to health and happiness.
According to Wim Hof: “Scientists have found evidence that exposure to cold speeds up metabolism… it reduces inflammation, swelling, and sore muscles…”
“Cold body therapy is also linked to improved quality of sleep, more focus, and even an improved immune response.”
For Wim Hofers, though, it’s not just about sitting in ice baths and swimming in frozen lakes while avoiding frost bite (make sure you go with an expert). There is also breathing and meditation to help you feel “more energetic, less stressed and better rested.”
Interestingly, Covid lockdowns have seemed to ignite our interest in wild swimming for physical and mental health. People all over the world are working to banish the winter blues through cold-water immersion. Whether it’s the Bold and Beautiful swimmers down at Manly Beach, or those tough Brits jumping into their seas, lochs, lakes and rivers, this is now a trendy thing to do.
Mental health advocate and author, Fearne Cotton, says it helps remedy anxiety and depression, clears brain fog, energises your body and improves your immunity. Fearne also lauded wild swimming for “clarity, calm vibes and pure exhilaration,” even though it was “painful”.
If you don’t fancy starting so hard core, you can still get a buzz from cold showers and by getting into nature in winter.
Whether it’s swimming in the ocean, lake, harbour, river or outdoor pool, snow shoeing in the mountains, skiing in the back country, strolling through the woods, bike riding in the forest or hiking along the beach, any kind of nature bathing has medicinal benefits that help to banish the winter blues.
If you’re keen on the idea but finding it hard to muster up the motivation, here are some tried and tested Wild Women techniques to help motivate you:
- Invite a buddy to join you. We all hate letting our friends down, so make plans, put the date in the diary and commit to your friend to motivate you to show up.
- Plan to finish your winter walk at a coffee shop, café or wine bar as extra incentive to get you moving until it becomes a habit.
- Get yourself a big hairy audacious adventure goal that requires you to take your fitness to the next level. This is a clever way of leveraging the fear of letting yourself and your team down to motivate you.
- Use layering up with clothes and a jacket so that you remove the cold barrier and start out toasty warm. Some hikers suggest starting cold, knowing you’ll soon warm up, but for cold bodies like me, this would demotivate me and I probably would talk myself out of going out.
- Set mini goals and use your fitness tracker. Measure your steps, hills, kilometes or minutes and congratulate yourself each time you reach your daily goal.
Whatever you choose to do, don’t waste the opportunity winter brings. Its time to feel that natural exhilaration of getting outside, rain, hail or shine. I promise, you’ll thank yourself for making the effort.