How Cold Weather Affects your Body

How Cold Weather Affects your Body

It’s winter and cold weather is sweeping across much of the country, but how do frosty mornings and biting wind affect our bodies and health?

We all experience cold weather differently. If you are tall, you tend to become cold faster than a shorter person. Taller people have a bigger surface area; meaning heat is lost from the body quicker. Even though people react to cold weather differently, as a species we are extremely adaptable.

Humans have settled and thrived in parts of the world that experience exceptionally cold temperatures for part of the year. The coldest city on Earth, Yanutsk, Russia, is home to approximately 200,000 residents. In January the average high is -34F and the record low -81.4F. The sheer size of the population shows just how adaptable humans are at surviving in extreme conditions.

Closer to home, International Falls, Minnesota, is one of the coldest places in the contiguous United States. Around 6,700 people call International Falls home and the average temperature in January is 2.7F.

Cold Weather Health Benefits

Cryotheraphy utilizes extremely low temperatures as a form of medical therapy and has been used for centuries to treat various medical conditions. Today cryotherapy is used to treat pain and inflammation for conditions such as rheumatism, muscle and joint pain, and fibromyalgia. Patients experiencing this type of therapy are placed in a room typically cooled to -184F. While outside temperatures aren’t controlled like a cryogenic chamber, it is thought that being outside in cold temperatures may have similar beneficial health effects.

Studies have found that exercising in cold weather can increase your body’s energy expenditure even after you’ve finished your workout. You also burn more calories while exercising in the cold as your body is expending energy to keep warm.

Cold temperatures may make you live longer! Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute found that by reducing the average core temperature of mice, their lifespan was extended by 20%.

A different study conducted at the Department of Molecular and Integrative Physiology, University of Michigan, looked at the lifespans of worms exposed to cold temperatures. They found that the worms in the study demonstrated a genetic response, which triggered a longer life span. The genetic pathway identified in the worms as part of this study is also found in people, meaning the same result could apply to humans, however further studies need to be conducted.

Cold Weather Health Risks

While cold weather can be beneficial to your health, it can also increase your chances of getting sick and bring other health risks with it.

We all know that colds and flu seem to be everywhere during the winter months, but why does this happen? Dr. Palese, in a study published in PLoS Pathogens, found that the reason the flu virus spreads so easily during winter is due to the fact that the virus is more stable and is able to stay in the air for longer when it’s cold and dry. He suggests that you are more likely to contract the flu from walking down the street on a cold, dry day than you are from sitting in a warm office. It is important to also make sure your home is warm. Companies similar to can make sure that your home heating system is working order so you’re ready for future lower temperatures

Cold weather can put increased stress on our cardiovascular system. Cold temperatures cause your blood vessels to constrict, shallow breathing, and a slight thickening of the blood. These changes can cause chest pain in people with heart disease. When you’re outside in cold conditions, make sure to wrap up warm, being careful to cover up your extremities.

Cold temperatures can cause problems for asthma sufferers. Cold, dry air causes the air passages in the lungs of some asthma sufferers to contract, making it difficult to breathe. When it comes to the cold, it is not just about being outside. It is important to understand that keeping your house warm during the winter months is essential. Plus, companies like Window World Oahu are not there for any reason. Maybe you’ve recently noticed a draft in the house due to your windows not being properly insulated? Then this seems like the right time to call in the professionals and ask for some assistance in making your home a better place to live in.

Cold, dry air can also worsen conditions such as eczema by drying out the skin. Even if you may not feel like it, it’s important to drink lots of water in the winter months in order to stay hydrated and avoid dry, flaky skin.

Winter Health: True or False

As we’ve seen, cold weather can be both beneficial and damaging to our health depending on pre-existing conditions and the extremes of weather that we are subjected to. So this winter, wrap up warm if you are going outside, try to eat healthily; soups and stews are great warming options, and enjoy reading whether these commonly held winter health beliefs are true or false:

Cold temperatures make you sick: False. Studies looking at the transmission of colds found that people experiencing cold temperatures are no more likely to get sick than those who are in a warm environment. The increase in colds and flu at this time of year is most likely because cold, dry conditions are ideal for transmitting these viruses.

You lose most of your body heat through your head: False. In cold weather, you lose heat from any uncovered part of your body, no more or less than from your head.

Shoveling snow can cause a heart attack: True. Shoveling snow is thought to increase your risk of heart attack. Cold temperatures cause your arteries to constrict and this in turn increases the workload on your heart. Any physical activities conducted in cold weather will increase the demand on your heart further, especially if you have medical conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes. When exercising in cold temperatures wrap up warm and take frequent breaks.

1. – Out in the cold. Harvard Health Publications.
2. – 7 of the coldest places in the world to live. Mother Nature Network.
3. – Hate Cold Weather? 3 reasons you should reconsider. Prevention
4. – Study Shows Why the Flu Likes Winter. The New York Times
5. – How To Walk In Bad Weather. Discovery Fit and Health
6. – 11 Health Myths That May Surprise You. The New York Times
7. – Cold Hard Facts (and Misconceptions) About Winter Health. Rush University Medical Center.

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