Cold weather can have a negative effect on our bodies and our health.
In the northeast, colder weather generally begins sometime in October. We naturally do everything we can to keep away the chill. We begin to add layers of clothing, heavy coats, and turn up the heat.
Then suddenly, perhaps in February, the day turns sunny! Its 50 degrees and it feels marvelous. Turn down the heat! Go for a walk!
Physiologists can answer that question. They say the body adjusts to increasing cold over time. In October, our bodies just haven't adjusted to the temperature drop.
The human body has two main ways to cope with chills when the temperature drops:
Humans, it turns out, have continuously invented ways to cope with cold by changing their environment, such as turning up heat sources, staying near those heat sources, and adding layers of clothing.
Interestingly, humans who constantly experience cold weather, like native people in the Arctic, just don't feel as cold as others.
Fish industry workers, whose hands are in cold water for hours, have been found to have warmer hands than other people.
The physiological explanation is that blood vessels don't constrict so much after long-term exposure. So those people really are warmer.
Yes, if you aren't an Eskimo and you do need thick, fuzzy socks all the time, there could be a medical explanation for the chill:
When the temperature of our bodies is lowered, our noses are not as adept at fighting off infection and illness such as when a virus is breathed in.
We also seem to make more mucus, even if we are not sick, when our body temperature is lowered in the cold weather. This can lead to more coughing and sneezing and a virus may attach itself to the mucus which will make you ill. Excess mucus is one of the most common ways to spread an illness.
In winter, we tend to go back and forth between extreme outdoor temperatures and often too warm indoor temperatures created by our heating systems. Warm air is blowing but the heat itself is dry, whether it is from a central heating source or a space heater.
The heat in really cold areas will be always running and drying out your sinuses. Worse, this could go on for 4 or 5 months or more out of the year. It is also significant that fresh air will not be let in on a regular basis.
Additionally, as dry air blows, there is not much ventilation and you are forced to breathe in whatever is coming out of the vents. This can cause allergies, with sneezing and coughing making it more likely for cold and flu viruses to spread. These contaminants are trapped indoors and are constantly recirculated because they have nowhere else to go.
Humidity is a factor as well. Those who live in areas with poor ventilation and low humidity are more likely to get and stay sick. Humidity can work to stop the viruses from spreading and by weakening their strength. Adding moisture to the air may be very helpful.
Whether you live in a frigid climate or not, cold weather can affect your heart adversely. According to the American Heart Association, cold weather and other seasonal factors can raise the risk of heart attacks and more.
Studies show that cardiac deaths begin to climb around Thanksgiving, peak early in the year, then decrease as warmer weather returns. Studies have shown that every 1.8 degree F drop in temperature corresponds to a 0.49 percent increase in deaths from all causes.
Many factors are at work:
For those with coronary conditions, it's especially important to be aware of cold weather activities like shoveling snow. It would be to your advantage and your heart health to consider hiring someone to do it or using a snowblower, particularly if you're not in shape. It is also important to dress warmly and, of course, to try to eat a healthy diet.
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