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Winter Naturism


Winter solstice – the date of the shortest day - is now just a month away, on June 21st.  The shift to colder, winter weather often makes us feel lethargic and deters our motivation to go outside.  The grey sky and cool breeze are an indication to throw on extra layers of clothing.  Being naked outside in winter seems absurd.  But is it, really? Has winter sent your outdoor naturist lifestyle into hibernation?  Don’t wait until spring to get back outside.  June 21st is also International Hike Naked Day.

Before you snuggle into the blankets or curl up by the fire to watch your favourite show, you should consider the potential benefits of cold-weather naturist activities.

Aside from helping to ease fears of potential winter weight gain, exercising outdoors in colder weather has numerous health benefits.  Winter weight gain for adults In New Zealand over 21 years of age ranges from 2 to 4.5 Kg


Obviously, extremely cold weather is very dangerous.  Hypothermia is a killer and can sneak up on the unwary.  But In moderate cold, your body can regulate its temperature just fine – in fact even a little better than in warm temperatures.  It’s easier for your body to make slight compensations for cool air than to try and stay cool when the air temperature is warm.  This means you can often exercise farther or longer in winter, potentially burning more calories than a similar workout in summer, according to the American Heart Association.  Exercising in the cold has shown the ability to enhance endurance and mental edge.

Regardless of exercise, being outside in cold weather can transform

Winter cartoon.jpg

white fat, specifically belly and thigh fat, into calorie-burning beige or brown fat.  Also called brown adipose tissue, brown fat is a special type of body fat that activates when you get cold.  Brown fat produces heat to help maintain your body temperature in cold conditions.  It contains many more mitochondria than does white fat.  These mitochondria are the "engines" in brown fat that burn calories to produce heat.


Brown fat has generated interest among researchers because it appears to be able to use regular body fat as fuel.  This results in noticeable reduction of belly fat and dangerous visceral fat, which we spoke about in our article, “Blowing the Myths on Belly Fat”.  In addition, cold weather exercise may stimulate hormones that activate brown fat.


AccuWeather National Weather Reporter Dexter Henry recently spoke with Nataliya Galifianakis, a clinical assistant professor of biology at New York University to learn more about how brown fat is beneficial during the winter.


"Brown fat can actually warm the body," Galifianakis told Henry.  “Instead of using calories to make energy, brown fat cells use calories to produce heat."


One of the signals for the activation of brown fat is exercise, Galifianakis said.  In addition to making new brown fats because a human body exercises, the generation of brown fat is also increased because someone is exercising in the cold weather, she explained.

"Brown fat could be activated by cold," Galifianakis said. "Chronic cold exposure activates your brown fat cells."

A 2014 study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, showed people have more genetic markers for brown fat in the winter than during the warmer months.  This indicates slightly more calorie burn in the winter as the body insulates itself.


“Browning fat tissue would therefore be an excellent defence against obesity,” study author Dr. Philip A. Kern said.  “It would result in the body burning extra calories rather than converting them into additional fat tissue.”


What about other health benefits?  Most naturists know the importance of adequate Vitamin D, produced when your skin is exposed to sunlight.  The sun's ultraviolet B (UVB) rays interact with a protein called 7-DHC in the skin, converting it into vitamin D3, the active form of vitamin D.


We need vitamin D to help the body absorb calcium and phosphate from our diet.  These minerals are important for healthy

bones, teeth and muscles.  A lack of vitamin D, known as vitamin D deficiency, can cause bones to become soft and weak, which can lead to bone deformities.


New Zealand’s winter sun (April to early September) doesn't contain enough UVB radiation for our skin to be able to make vitamin D with just arms, legs and face exposed.  During these months, most people rely on getting vitamin D from food sources (including fortified foods) and dietary supplements.  Naturists, on the other hand, can still acquire enough vitamin D by having the entire body exposed.


Another benefit is that winter outdoor exercise boosts immunity during cold and flu season.  A few minutes a day can help prevent simple bacterial and viral infections, according to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the U.S.


So, what activities can we do outdoors naked in winter?  And how do we combat the cold?


In fact, it’s not as difficult or uncomfortable as you might think.  Already some of our members have been on tramps, bush hikes and cycle rides – even in the rain.  The key to staying comfortable is learning to help your body keep comfortably warm depending on the work it’s doing.  We always start off with at least a jacket on – maybe also a T-shirt.  As your body starts to heat up from the exercise, the clothing layers can start to come off.  The trick is to not let yourself start to sweat into clothing.  Wet or damp clothing sucks heat from your body far quicker than naked skin, leading to a rapid drop in your temperature.  This happens because the thermal conductivity of water is roughly 30 times greater than air.  That’s helpful in summer, but in winter temperatures it can be a fast track to hypothermia.  As soon as you’ve warmed up to the point you’re starting to sweat, your body will feel totally comfortable without clothing as it continues to work and burn energy.  As soon as you stop working, such as stopping for lunch, you’ll cool down very quickly and will need a jacket or sweater.



The type of exercise also plays a part in how to control your body temperature.  Generally, for cycling, the air temperature needs to be a little warmer than for hiking or tramping.  This is because, when moving faster on a bike, wind chill factor comes into play reducing the effective temperature by 2 or 3 degrees, or even more with a headwind.  Once warmed up, an air temperature of as low as 15 degrees is comfortable when walking through still air under the protective canopy of a forest trail.  But on the recent Kaiaua bike ride I kept my jacket on for the first 5 Km or so with the temperature at 17 degrees.


Common sense prevails when naked outdoors in winter.  Listen to what your body is telling you and act accordingly.  If you start to shiver, your body is trying to exercise muscles in order to generate heat, so put something on.  If you start to sweat, your body is trying to cool down, so get that jacket off.  And most important of all, keep your clothing dry.  If it looks like the possibility of rain, take a waterproof jacket with a hood and wear just that – nothing else.


As for me, the nature in naturism is probably the key.  It’s the outdoor experience where the real joy comes from, whether that's a river ramble, a beach, a hike through a rain forest or a country cycle ride.  We are lucky in New Zealand in having a temperate climate, especially in areas north of Taupo.  In fact, from Auckland to the Far North, the climate reaches sub-tropical conditions for a good proportion of the year, and our winters are relatively mild.  But for us Kiwis the issue is always going to be the changeable weather, which can course through all four seasons in a single day.  So don't let winter dampen your naturist spirit.  Embrace it!  Getting out into the great outdoors is good for you, physically and mentally.


21 May 2021

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