The icy weather of winter may not always be welcomed, but tumbling temperatures can have a positive effect on a whole range of health issues – including sleep, burning fat and feeling frisky
The nights are getting longer, temperatures are dropping and the battle against the bitter cold is well under way. Cold and flu bugs are more likely to lay us low, partly because we are huddled together indoors but also because viruses survive better in cooler conditions. Yet winter isn’t necessarily all bad when it comes to your health. In fact, research shows our bodies can benefit significantly when the thermometer takes a tumble, helping us to get more rest, fight the flab and even think more clearly. So what are the medical upsides to winter – and how exactly does it bolster our wellbeing? https://ginnyent.net/2019/02/20/meet-anthony-nweke-a-veteran-author/
Burn more fat
The secret to staying slim over winter may be to go for a walk on the coldest days, research suggests. That’s because our bodies work even harder to maintain their core temperature – around 37C – when the temperature plummets.
This extra effort consumes more calories and can help to keep weight down even more than walking in sunny, warm conditions. A 2017 study at the University of Albany in the US found that hikers burned 34% more fat when they ventured out in temperatures of -5C than when they walked around in relatively balmy conditions of around 10C. Although trudging through snow probably accounted for some of the extra energy expenditure.
Enjoy better sleep
Our body temperatures fluctuate throughout the day, but as we near bedtime we tend to shed heat as we get drowsy in preparation for sleep. This is why we often appear flushed when we start to tire. Experts say the ideal bedroom temperature to promote sleep is around 18C, which means it’s often easier to nod off in winter than on hot summer nights – providing the heating is not turned up to the max. As well as turning the radiator down, stay cool by not eating late at night, which increases body temperature and makes it harder for it to dispel heat in time for rest. Or open the window very slightly and let some chilly winter air in.
Dr Neil Stanley, an independent sleep expert and a member of the British Sleep Society, says: “In the cold of winter, our natural tendency is to want to get more sleep as darkness is the signal for sleep. “But to get good sleep we must lose one degree of body temperature, so a cooler – but not cold – bedroom will help with this.” The cold helps you think more clearly If you need a new phone contract, now might be the time to get it. This is not because of the offers, but the weather . In a study at the University of Virginia, US, volunteers were asked to choose between two mobile deals. One looked more attractive at first glance, but studying the detail would reveal it was in fact more expensive. The recruits were put into two different rooms – one warm and muggy, the other icy cold. The results revealed more than 50% of those in the cold conditions studied the small print and chose the better option. In the warm room, only 25% did. Scientists think the brain functions better when the weather is colder because in the heat of summer, it uses up more glucose (a major source of energy) to keep its temperature down, leaving less available to power other things like reasoning and recall. In winter, there is less demand on the glucose so the brain has the fuel it needs to perform more complex, cognitive tasks.
Some surveys suggest people have more sex in December than any other month, with men becoming more amorous in the winter. In one trial, for example, men were asked to rate the attractiveness of several women every three months over the course of one year. They viewed pictures either showing just the women’s faces, or full-length shots of them in bikinis. While attraction to women’s faces did not change during the course of the year, their attraction to their bodies did. Arousal levels were much higher in the cold winter months of December, January and February than in June, July and August. The reason may simply be that men are less sensitised to the sight of bare female flesh in the cold weather.
Getting your skis on and hitting the slopes can give your mental health a major boost, according to South Korean research. Scientists quizzed 280 visitors to major ski resorts on levels of happiness and satisfaction. The results, in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life, found skiers who became the most involved in the activity – becoming oblivious to external worries and problems – reaped the greatest benefit. Other research suggests children who ski may even do better in school, thanks to the physical and psychological boost it gives.
Suffer fewer acne breakouts
Acne sufferers are often told their spots will clear up in the summer sun but may get worse in the cold months of winter, but some research questions this. A 2002 study in the Journal of Dermatology, which quizzed 452 acne sufferers, found 56% felt it got worse in the hot and sweaty summer season and only 11% felt their skin worsened in winter. Researchers said: “Apparently, winter does not affect the severity of acne in most patients but a majority noticed a summer aggravation due to increased sweating.” But the benefits of cold probably only apply if you have oily skin because it dries it out. If your skin is already dry, there’s a chance it could get worse in winter, not better.
Soothe away pain
Most of us would think heat is the ideal remedy for painful joints or muscles but an icy blast of freezing air can be just as good. In fact, so-called “cold air anaesthesia” is already being used in some dermatology treatments where a laser is used to destroy skin that has aged prematurely due to excess sun exposure. In tests, patients reported much lower pain scores when they were blasted with chilled air around the area of treatment than when doctors applied an anaesthetic cream on to the site. Sudden exposure to cold is thought to increase levels of noradrenaline, a hormone which acts as one of the body’s natural painkillers.
Lower the chance of premature birth
Having a baby in the cold winter months could be safer than in the stifling heat of summer. A recent study at Xinxiang Medical University in China looked at rates of premature births among thousands of women throughout the year.
They found that when the temperature topped 32C in the hot summer months, mums-to-be were twice as likely to go into labour prematurely. Babies born several weeks early can be at a higher risk of problems with their vision, hearing and teeth, and may also suffer learning and behavioural difficulties. But the study found when outside temperatures plummeted to as low as minus 2C, the risk of premature labour was nearly halved.
Ward off pregnancy diabetes
Popping outside for short periods during freezing winter weather could have major benefits for pregnant women, according to a 2017 study at the University of Toronto in Canada. It found doing so substantially reduced the chances of them getting gestational diabetes – which affects tens of thousands of pregnant women here every year. The Toronto research, which looked at half-a-million births over a 12-year period, found around 8% of mums-to-be developed gestational diabetes if they were regularly exposed to temperatures of 24C or more in the month before being screened. However, the condition only affected 4% of women exposed to temperatures of 10C or less during the same period.
Develop fewer urine infections
Urinary tract infections affect tens of thousands every year in the UK – mostly women. They can be painful and often need antibiotics to clear them up. But some studies suggest the risk of a UTI may partly depend on the temperature outside.
Author: Pat Hagan