How Cold Weather Affects Health

How Cold Weather Affects Health

Cold weather affects your health in a variety of ways. From weight gain, to cold and flu, to frostbite, cold weather can wreak havoc on your body. Learn how to keep warm, prevent weight gain, and stay in good health during these cold winter months.

Cold Effects

Have you noticed that you crave warm comfort foods when it gets colder out? That’s because your body requires extra fuel to keep warm. To get that extra fuel, you tend to eat more. This allows your body to store extra fat to better insulate your body and keep you warm. You can lose weight during the winter months by watching what you eat and staying active. Rather than packing on the pounds to keep warm, try layering clothes to insulate your body temperature. Wear a close fitting base layer first, then an insulating mid-layer, and last, a looser fitting wind or waterproof layer such as a jacket. Be sure to check out our article on Cold, Flu, and Allergies to be prepared for the cold weather.

Physical Risks from Direct Cold

  • Slips and trips increase during the winter months due to wearing worn down shoes or improper shoes on slick surfaces. Try to wear boots or shoes with good tread. Salt your sidewalks and driveways with ice melt salt to prevent slipping and falling when walking out to your car.
  • Heart attacks increase in the winter because the drop in temperature concentrates your blood at the core of your body, which in turn increases blood pressure and puts more strain on your heart. The cold also makes your body work harder, thus putting stress on your heart to ensure you stay warm.
  • If you have high blood pressure or an existing heart condition, be sure to talk with your doctor due to an increased risk for heart attack.
  • Frostbite and frostnip are also major risks when exposed to cold temperatures. These are caused by lack of blood to a part of the body. Your body will want to concentrate your blood around your core to preserve your heart, lungs, and brain. This leaves your fingers, toes, arms, and legs at risk for frostbite and frostnip. Frostbite or frostnip can cause permanent damage, loss of limb, or in severe cases death.
  • Hypothermia is another risk when exposed to direct cold. This happens when you lose body heat faster than your body can make it. Your core body temperature is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. If your core drops to or below 95 degrees Fahrenheit, hypothermia will set in. Symptoms of hypothermia include shivering, numb extremities, loss of dexterity, and feeling extremely cold. If hypothermia is left untreated, it will lead to complete failure of your heart and lungs, causing death.

Disease Risk

The cold causes a loss of blood supply to the immune system to keep your heart and head warm which in turn causes a weakened immune system. The reduction of blood supply means that the illness-fighting cells are not as available to help fight viruses or infections. Cold weather results in increased risk of colds and flu.

Common colds are the most common human disease and cause, on average, 2-5 colds per year in adults. The common cold is spread mainly through touching a surface that the virus is living on, or through air-borne infection such as a cough. It is recommended to wash your hands regularly and not touch your face until you wash your hands. The only cure for the cold and flu is to take medication for the symptoms and let your immune system fight off the virus. Antibiotics will do not cure the cold! Make sure to get plenty of sleep and eat healthy foods.

The flu is similar to a cold but it can be more serious, especially in the elderly, the young, or those with diabetes and kidney disease. The flu is very similar to the cold in terms of symptoms and how to get rid of it. The flu virus thrives in the cold weather. The best way to prevent the flu is to get the flu shot every year. If you come down with the flu, be sure to get plenty of rest, eat healthy food, and take medicine for the symptoms. Antibiotics will not cure the flu either!

The norovirus, often called the winter vomiting bug, is common in the winter months. It is also very serious for the elderly, the young, and those with compromised immune systems. It causes extreme vomiting and diarrhea, which then causes dehydration and in serious conditions death. It is widely found in schools, hotels, and cruise liners due to the large amount of people in small spaces. It usually runs its course in a few days. Again, antibiotics will do nothing for the norovirus.

The risk of asthma attacks increase in the cold weather due to breathing in cold air quickly which causes lung spasms, triggering an attack. Try wearing a scarf or face mask to warm the air before the air gets to the lungs.

Migraines and sinus pressure increase due to falling barometric pressure, which can be intense. Try talking to your doctor about medication or ways to help deal with more frequent migraines or increased intensity of sinus pressure.

Mental Health Risks

Depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder, often referred to as SAD, increase in the winter months due to shorter days and less sunlight. Symptoms of depression and SAD include feeling sad most days if not all of the week, having little to no energy or motivation to do normal activities, having problems sleeping, having problems concentrating, feeling hopeless, and/or experiencing changes in appetite. If you notice any of these symptoms talk with your doctor. Your doctor might recommend that you take some medication or talk with a trained professional.

Stay warm, stay safe, and stay healthy during these winter months.