Do warmer temperatures improve your workouts?

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Story highlights

  • Colder weather is actually better for athletic performance
  • But warmer temperatures can increase motivation to exercise
  • Don't forget the sunscreen if you're outside

The rumor: You can get a better workout in warm weather

You don't need a Ph.D. to understand why people prefer to exercise outside when the sun is shining, flowers are in full bloom and winter's cruel polar vortices seem like a long-ago nightmare.

Heading out the door to walk, run, bike, play basketball or get in a game of tennis is way more appealing when you don't have to brace yourself for single-digit temperatures, gloomy skies and a stinging 25-mile-per-hour headwind. And doesn't warm weather warm up muscles, or something?

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The verdict: Warmer temps don't improve workouts per se

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Generally speaking, colder weather is actually better for athletic performance because it reduces heat stress on the body so there's less chance that you'll overheat or get dehydrated (two conditions that are enemies of a good workout).

But as exercise physiologist and upwave reviewer Daniel Zeman observes, "It doesn't matter if the cold improves your workouts if the weather discourages you from being outside and actually working out -- which can definitely be the case in the winter. There is a real psychological connection between warmer temperatures, wanting to be outside and having the motivation to exercise."

    For proof of this, Zeman suggests that we need look no further than the natural world around us. "As Zen as this sounds, in spring, mammals are ready to stop hibernating, plants are ready to start blooming and humans are just ready to get outside and exercise," he says.

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    Of course, there are also very tangible physiological benefits to working out in warmer weather.

    "When people talk about colder weather being better for athletic performance, the operative word there is 'colder,'" Zeman says. "It's only when you get into excessively hot temperatures that the negative effects of heat exhaustion come into play and you're unable to maintain your level of effort."

    Spring temperatures in the 50s, 60s and 70s are actually great for exercising, and the amount of time it takes your muscles to warm up is indeed reduced.

    More good news for warm-weather exercise enthusiasts? There's growing evidence that exposure to the sun's ultraviolet light (stronger in the warmer months) helps to increase vitamin D levels, which in turn can improve muscle structure and function.

    That said, be sure to slather on sunscreen to protect your skin: You only need to expose your skin to the sun for five to 30 minutes a couple days a week to kick-start sufficient production of the vitamin.

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    "At the end of the day, what really matters is that you're more likely to exercise when it's warm," notes Zeman. So let the balmy temps and the brightly shining sun entice you to come out from underneath your blanket and go outside for a five-mile run, a jaunt on your bike or a game of tennis...

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