Table of Contents
- Misconceptions about health problems
- What else can help us be healthy and happy this winter?
Are we ready for a winter season? Are our bodies prepared?
It’s interesting how something as natural as seasonality can change our behavior and mental and physical health. Sometimes even turn our world upside down.
What seem to be the catch?
Do you know that we can perceive colors differently in summer compared with winter? No wonder we change our behaviors significantly when the days are at their shortest and the temperatures are below freezing. We might live with the idea that the body is our temple – cold weather can significantly change our daily habits. In winter, it seems we are mostly unprepared to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Why do we so easily fall into this seasonal trap?
“Mood and immunity are well known to change with seasons in humans and there are indications that several brain aspects could also be seasonal.”
One interesting example of the seasonal behavior is different types of creativity we experience in different seasons. When in cold, our brain is better at understanding and recognizing metaphors and abstract ideas. Scientists think that this is related to the fact that we feel more apart from others, psychologically, when the weather is cold.
So, there’s a scientific proof that our brain understands the world and people around us differently when the weather is cold, and this is both logical and natural.
But what about our health and lifestyle?
I have met people who are completely different persons with the first signs of cold weather.
They are glued to their sofas, uninterested in what is going on around them, making plans for summer. It’s understandable, but what I see as a big obstacle is how the mistreat their bodies and disregard their health. I believe this is a major problem.
Are you exercising regularly in winter? Are you drinking enough water? Do you sleep enough or do you perhaps oversleep? Do you experience frequent mood changes?
The cold weather can affect our metabolism, heart, skin, mood and balance.
Good health is not only about healthy eating and exercising – but also includes a positive mental health and a healthy lifestyle. Let take seasonal affective disorder as an example. SAD, referred to as a depressive disorder with a seasonal pattern, is a real problem that is mostly affecting people in the fall or winter months. Can we battle it?
We can find our way to be healthy and happy regardless of the season if we know where to look for the cause of our problems.
In many ways the root to neglecting our mental and physical health in winter lie in the fact that we fall prey to winter health myths, on one hand, and to being unable to recognize the newly habits that are related to cold weather.
Once we know our enemies we can find a good strategy to overcome problems.
Let’s explore common misconceptions about winter and health.
Misconceptions about health problems
Can cold weather make you sick?
Yes and No.
When it comes to infections, lower temperatures and cold weather itself are not responsible if you catch a cold. The truth is that germs are the culprits behind it.
Influenza viruses peak in winter just like rhinoviruses peak in spring and fall, and you have to come in contact with either to catch a cold. Another important notion is that viruses do reproduce more efficiently in the cooler temperatures.
On the other hand, cold air can contribute to weakening your organism because it attacks your immune system. When your immune system is not strong, cold air and law temperatures cause conditions that lead to illnesses. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) showed that dry air outdoors is linked to flu outbreaks because viruses easily survive and transmit in the dry air.
Temperatures affect our health because the immune system is using more energy to try to keep the body warm enough. This result in having our immune system being under constant pressure from the low temperatures and not being able to fight back bacteria and viruses. This is also the reason why we need more food and eat more in winter. Lack of energy is also recognized as a sign of the symptoms of flu and cold. Moreover, cold can also worsen chronic pain.
But if you are feeling cold all the time, you should be under alert as this is a sign your body is sending to you. When you cannot warm your body at all, you might be anorexic. Feeling of being cold all the time is also one of the “diabetic nephropathy”, which is the kidney damage resulting from diabetes.
When you immune system is weak you are prone to catch an infection.
Should you exercise in the cold?
Our bodies are designed to run, swim, train, exercise – so why wouldn’t we run in the cold weather?
If you follow necessary precautions, exercising outdoors in cold weather is safe, even more, race times are in fact faster, and you can burn more calories in less time, according to a research published in Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise.
Running, skiing, ice skating and soccer – when you exercise, your body generates heat. In fact, our bodies will maintain healthy temperature of 98.6˚F.
We know of many benefits of outdoor exercising. If you regularly exercise outdoor on a cold weather you will make your heart muscle stronger and you will get a dose of vitamin D. And yes, burn more calories.
According to a research, exercising in cold weather is also a good way to reduce stress, and even ease the symptoms of depression, which is a common problem in winter.
Note: Those who have heart problems or poor blood circulation in the feet and hands should consult with a medical professional before exercising outdoors when the temperature drops.
Do I don’t need a sunscreen?
In colder months we are in fact more exposed to harmful rays than during the warmer seasons. Ice and snow reflects up to around 80 percent UV rays and only around 20 percent from sand.
Winter skin is more sensitive, and apart from avoiding hot showers (we’ll get to that subject later) you need to take care of your skin. If you don’t moisturize, you will end up with dry, itchy skin. When melanin concentration is reduced, and on one hand, cold air dries out the skin, and on the other, heating in rooms stresses it, so we have to adapt our caring routine to a particular season.
Even as little as 10 minutes outdoors in the winter sun will replenish your skin and you will get a good dose of the sunshine vitamin. The same 10 minutes can cause much damage to your skin if you don not use proper protection.
Does lack of sunlight cause depression?
Yes and No.
Do you know how we are advised to sleep in a dark room and turn off all artificial sources of lights in the room? There’s a good reason behind it.
Light sends important signals to our organism and triggers many chemical reactions in our brain.
Natural light sends direct signals to our body instructing it when it’s the right time to wake up, for instance. When we wake up in the morning without natural light we are sleepy because the lack of light leads to overproduction of melatonin. Moreover, natural light and production of serotonin are also in a close relation – without natural light we experience a decrease in serotonin levels, which affect our appetite, and mood as well.
Sunlight impacts our organism and body differently – we need light for hormone regulation and we need vitamin D for immune system, energy and mood. The sunshine vitamin is crucial for the regulation of calcium and phosphate levels in the body. It’s only natural that bad mood and depression comes with dark and cold days, unfortunately.
Moreover, around holidays and even after, seasonal affective disorder starts affecting many people; however, depression can be caused by lack of exercising, stress, worries, unhealthy diet and fattening holiday food, increased alcohol consumption, and busy working schedule.
Yes, these are all depression triggers.
Lack of sunlight can contribute to depression. We are prone to think that cold weather prevents us from keeping up with our healthy routines and interests. On the contrary, we can enjoy other activities and find pleasure in typical winter adventures.
Does alcohol warm me up?
Our body temperature in fact is dropping when we drink alcohol.
We do feel warm because the blood rushes away from internal organs, but alcoholic drinks disable our body to create heat and this is where the problem arises.
If you think you can warm up drinking outdoors, it’s more dangerous than you might think.
With alcohol in our blood, our body is prevented to detect cold and protect us from frostbites and hypothermia. Alcohol sends wrong signals to the body, making it think you are hot, while you are in fact not. Moreover, as alcohol is a vasodilator, the blood vessels dilate, and as blood rushes to the skin’s surface, you do feel warm.
Note: A study from the University of Maryland showed that binge drinking can weaken the immune system.
What about nasty winter habits?
Cold weather and shorter days can make us change our habits. We feel we lack energy and sunlight, and are mostly cranky and nervous. Avoiding exercising backfires.
Unfortunately, we can easily become victims of seasonal bad habits. What seems to be our biggest problems?
Let’s dig deeper into the subject.
Are you familiar with marathon sleep seasons? Yes, you probably are.
A healthy sleep hinges on many things – exercising, a healthy diet, and lack of stress – to name a few things. Somehow with cold days many seem to experience either lack of sleep or have to adapt to new sleeping routines and sleep more than recommended eight hours. Some get caught up in a stressful pre-holiday atmosphere, and others need more time to adapt. Soon you realize that it is much harder to get up from your cozy bed. Then, your after work activities are postponed and replaced. The result? Depression is the first thing I can think of.
Excessive sleep can vastly contribute to many mental and physical problems, according to studies:
- Cognitive impairment
- Increased inflammation
- Impaired fertility
- Higher risk of obesity and diabetes
- Higher risk of heart disease
- Higher risk of stroke
- Higher all-cause mortality
- Weight gain
There’s a scientific explanation behind it:
- The changing weather conditions disrupt some of your body’s natural processes
- The lack of natural light suppresses the release of hormone that instructs our bodies on time to settle down – melatonin, disrupting the internal circadian rhythm
- Too cold or too warm temperatures can disrupt the body’s natural sleeping process
- Eating heavier meals usually close to bedtime causes frequent awakenings during night, resulting in more sleep during day
- High levels of stress lead to insomnia causing sleep deprivation and resulting in oversleeping during holidays
What can you do?
- Adjust the room temperature to be cool and comfortable for sleeping, yet not too dry
- Exercise everyday
- Avoid eating before going to bed
- Try to relax before sleep
Not drinking enough water
In winter our bodies are more concerned with being warm than with staying hydrated.
The problem is that most of the time we are not able to understand the signs of thirst. The usual signs of dehydration are dry lips and mouth and little urination.
Why is it important to drink more water when it’s cold?
Our bodies are about 80% water, and regardless of the season, we always need to keep our body hydrated. There are many mental and physical conditions related to water depletion in the body.
- Firstly, when we are dehydrated, our mental health can be questioned
- We need water for good digestion
- Water is maintaining our skin elasticity and health
- A daytime fatigue can be a result of dehydration
- Water and water-rich food help to get rid of harmful chemical from our organism and detoxify our bodies
- Water keeps the winter weight away
What can you do?
- Include water-rich winter fruits in your diet
- Drink tea
- Eat soups and spicy food
- Avoid sodium
The amount of water we need depends on various factors such as the weight and the overall state of your organism, the humidity, the frequency of physical activities, and more. According to science, the food intakes contributes to about 20% of our fluid intake and we need 2.7-3.7 litres of water intake.
Overindulging in food
Why we eat so much in winter?
There’s no simple explanation than this: the body needs more fuel to stay warm.
But, why do we overeat in winter? Different people have different reasons; sometimes no reason at all. Some simply enjoy eating. However, we can see a connection between overeating and not performing certain actions.
We eat more because we are cold.
Yes, as silly as it might sound, we do eat more because of the cold weather, and there a perfectly logical explanation for indulging in food. To warm up and increase our internal temperature, our body needs to burn more calories. We need food to be able to fight the freeing temperature.
We eat more because we move less.
Very few people are determined to maintain their exercising routine; most cannot wait to go sit by the fire and get away from the frosty wind. The problem is that we tend to spend much time indoors. And what do we usually do? Enjoy a movie marathon. How can we enjoy it? What’s a movie night without snacks?
We eat more when we dehydrate.
Hunger and thirst can be easily confused, and often times when we are thirsty we think we are hungry. When you take into consideration that our bodies lose water as easily during winter as in summer, and that we sweat as much in winter as we do in other seasons, we can easily dehydrate.
We eat when we are not in the positive mood.
Whether we are suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder or simply experience a period of despondency caused by the season, we tend to nullify bad feelings with food, seeking comfort.
Winter is a binge season for many reasons and the struggle we are going through is real.
What can you do?
- Make good nutrition the base of a healthy lifestyle
- Start stocking your fridge with healthy food
- Avoid sugar-rich food
- Believe you can make any change you want
- Avoid trigger food (candy bars, chocolate, cookies, chips, and other confectionary)
- Identify your trigger food and remove it from your diet
What are common reasons people skip meals? Firstly, they are either too busy to eat or they want to lose weight. The problem is that when you skip meals, your next meal is usually bigger.
While workaholics need to learn how to manage time more effectively, weight watchers will gain nothing with skipping meals but wreak havoc on the body. Skipping a meal leads to overeating and weight gain.
Skipping one meal can decrease your blood sugar levels, and you need glucose because that’s the body’s fuel. Moreover, when you deprive your body of essential nutrients in the time it needs and requires, the metabolism slows down, and with metabolism slowing down, the body’s ability to burn calories is affected. One research concluded that skipping meal increases the risk of type 2 diabetes.
What can you do?
- Plan your meals
- Create a schedule and stick to it
- Introduce healthy snacks into your diet
- Snack on food high in fiber
- Listen to your body
Taking long, hot showers
Is you skin dry and itchy? I understand why long, steamy showers are tempting but apart from the temporary satisfaction, hot showers can be more bad than good. Need I remind you why we need to take a serious care about our skin? It’s the largest organ that is the first front of protection.
Instead of hot showers, choose lukewarm or cold water.
What are some benefits of a cold shower?
Showering with cold water improves circulation
It’s very simple: cold water will make the blood rush to your organs because it forces blood to move. Good circulation prevents problems such as hypertension and varicose veins and improves the overall performance of the organs.
Cool water relieves muscle soreness
A study analyzed the effects of cool showers and concluded that a 24-minute cold water baths can effectively speed up muscle soreness after cycling, running or resistance training.
Cold showers help with weight loss
Our body uses white fat for proper functioning, and brown fat generates heat and keeps the body warm. Cold showers activate brown fat and thus promote weight loss. A study conducted in 2009 showed that cold temperatures activate brown fat by a 15-fold increase, which means a person can lose up to 9 pounds a year if they shower with cold water.
To protect your skin and improve body’s function, opt for either lukewarm or cold showers.
One may say that season and weather have nothing to do with procrastination. I disagree.
When you are tired, in a bad mood and sluggish, you are likely to postpone work-related things. However, if you add anxiety and stress to the equation, chances are you are going to start to manifest procrastinating behavior within other aspects of your life. Moreover, postponing things that needs to be done brings more stress and anxiety into your life.
Procrastination leads to neglecting health.
One study showed that 20% of adults are chronic procrastinators, while the rate among students is around 70%.
Is it easy to give in to unhealthy habits? Yes, unfortunately.
What can you do?
Be yourself, and know your fears
Do things that will boost willpower
Remember that emotions may cause distraction
What else can help us be healthy and happy this winter?
Now that we have covered common winter myths and understood what habits make us neglect our health and happiness, it’s time to see what else we can do to stay in a positive mood, active and satisfied.
Try new things
Even though we are more active and ready to leave our comfort zone when the weather is warm, we should not forget that winter is a magical season. There’s not one reason you cannot enjoy winter. Have you been on a winter picnic? Have you taken pictures of winter landscape? Have you participated in an igloo building competition?
Doing the same things every day can hinder your personal growth. When you try new things is when the change and growth happens and experiencing new things you can better understand and improve yourself.
Spending time indoors all the time can only make you less engaging and active. On the other hand, you can always invest your time and find ways to give to others. Can you offer your services pro bono? Do you have a local charity you can volunteer at? Perhaps your friends need help or your neighbors need assistance?
Spending your time in a more meaningful way can reduce stress and give you a new perspective, especially when you realize you can make a difference.
Are you satisfied with your lifestyle choices? Is there anything you want to change? I am not talking about a life changing decision, but rather small adjustments in your everyday routine. Create short-term goals because small changes can truly make a big difference. How?
- Identify challenges
- Think how to address these challenges
- Create specific action steps
- Establish a follow-up plan
- Create a timeline
There’s no easy way to battle stress and it’s probably easier to say than do. The fact that most of the time unhealthy lifestyle goes hand in hand with stress it’s worth to try to learn how to reduce stress in your life. The first thing you should do is to recognize what causes and triggers stress.
According to the American Institute of Stress, there are dozens of symptoms that can help you recognize what causes stress on everyday basis, some of which are sleep deprivation, headaches, depression, and procrastination. The best advice I have received about stress is to not let your emotions lead your actions, thus when you find yourself in a stressful situation, act after your emotions cool off.
Everyone can find the best solution to relieve stress, but talking to a professional can also help.
Learn how to say no
Saying No to friends, family members or coworkers can be very hard, but it’s a powerful skill. However, one should understand that everyone is entitled to refuse to do something. Do you want to say No more often without being understood wrongly or being judged or thought of as rude?
Saying Yes is easier and it can become habitual, but according to the book Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much, when we are tired or stressed, and especially when we are busy, it’s harder to say no.
Helping a friend or a relative is not a situation I am referring to, but rather the situations where you are afraid to refuse to perform an action. We want to please and to be polite, but remember that learning how to say No is part of assertive communication.
Meditation is a remedy for your soul and mind. More and more studies are discovering why mediation should be a part of our daily routines. Some meditating techniques are as old as civilization itself and have roots in deep understanding of human psyche and mentality.
Apart from different techniques and methods, all meditation schools have a common goal – to help a person find out their true personality and to better understand the world. Try to isolate yourself in a quiet and comfortable place only 5 minutes a day, and breathe deeply with your eyes closed, and you will see how a simple exercise like this can help ease your mind. Learn how to breathe properly.
Spend time with friends
Sometimes we are surprised how our friends know us better than ourselves. People who are closest to us can help us reshape our lives and battle life’s challenges. Friendship is wonderful, but it takes nurturing. Use your time and spend it with people you care most about.
This is a famous quote by Leo Tolstoy: “There is only one time that is important – NOW! It is the most important time because it is the only time that we have any power.”
It’s hard to learn to be present, but it’s worth every second of trying.
Apart from the fact that you are missing out on important things in your life and lives of your dearest, when you learn to be present, you are learning how to be more proactive, creative, calm and ready for any challenge that comes your way. The best way to be present is to learn how to breathe properly and to focus on the task. Be yourself and understand your fears.
Do you think you can now fight the winter blues?
Regardless of all the bad habits winter evokes and brings, we can still learn how to bring balance into our lives and how to continue on with living happily and healthy.
If you have any advice, feel free to share it in the comments below.
Connolly, M. (2013). Some like it mild and not too wet: The influence of weather on subjective well-being. Journal of Happiness Studies, 14, 457-473.
Connolly, M. (2008). Here comes the rain again: Weather and the intertemporal substitution of leisure. Journal of Labor Economics, 26, 73-100.
Denissen, J.J.A.; Butalid, Ligaya; Penke, Lars; van Aken, Marcel A. G. (2008). The effects of weather on daily mood: A multilevel approach. Emotion, 8, 662-667.
Hsiang, SM, et al., (2013). Quantifying the influence of climate on human conflict. Science.
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