Seasonal variations in physical activity and implications for human health

Eur J Appl Physiol. 2009 Oct;107(3):251-71. doi: 10.1007/s00421-009-1127-1. Epub 2009 Jul 16.


This review explores the implications of seasonal changes in physical activity for fitness and human health. Photosensitivity and nutrient shortages mediate animal hibernation via the hypothalamus and changes in leptin and ghrelin concentrations. Opportunities for hunting and crop cultivation determine seasonal activity in under-developed human societies, but in developed societies temperature and rainfall are dominant influences, usually over-riding innate rhythms. Both questionnaire data and objective measurements show that many groups from children to the elderly increase their physical activity from winter to spring or summer. Measurements of maximal oxygen intake and muscle strength commonly show parallel seasonal changes. However, potential effects upon body mass and body fat may be counteracted by changes of food intake; subsistence agriculturists sometimes maintain or increase physical activity at the expense of a decrease in body mass. In developed societies, body fat commonly increases during the winter, with parallel changes in blood lipids, blood pressure and blood coagulability; moreover, these changes are not always fully reversed the following summer. Most developed societies show increased all-cause and cardiac mortalities in the winter. Health consequences of seasonal variations in physical activity including an increased vulnerability to cardiac catastrophe and a year-by-year increase in total body fat seem most likely if the average level of physical activity for the year is low. Public health recommendations should underline the importance of maintaining physical activity during adverse environmental conditions by adapting clothing, modifying behaviour and exploiting any available air-conditioned indoor facilities.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology
  • Exercise / physiology
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Periodicity*
  • Physical Fitness / physiology*
  • Seasons