7 Surprising Ways Cold Weather Helps Your Body
We think of winter as cold and flu season, but the chilly temperatures have powerful biological upsides too
BOOSTS YOUR BRAIN
Colder temperatures can help you think more clearly. Studies have found that people perform some cognitive tasks (such as making decisions) better when the temperature is cooler. Research has also shown that people are less inclined to tackle complex tasks in the summer than in the winter. The brain requires glucose to function, but the body uses more of it in warmer temperatures to keep the body cool. That leaves less available fuel for reasoning and recall tasks.
When it’s cold, your body works harder to maintain your core
temperature, which is typically about 98.6 degrees. “Our bodies use a considerable amount of energy to keep us warm and to humidify the air we breathe when we’re out in the cold,” explains Stacy Tucker, RN, cofounder of Almeda Labs in Kansas City, Missouri. So lace up your boots: A recent study of 53 people showed that participants burned 34 percent more calories when they hiked in 14- to 23-degree temperatures than they did hiking on 50-degree days.
ACTIVATES HEALTHY FAT
We know accumulating too much ordinary fat (sometimes called “white” fat) can endanger our health. But adults also have small amounts of beneficial “brown” fat that can stoke their metabolism to burn more calories—and cold temperatures can activate this brown fat. One study showed that participants who lowered their body temperatures simply by placing one foot in cold water revved up their brown fat cells fifteenfold.
If spring and summer make you sneeze, winter might be your new favorite season. Pollen counts are virtually nonexistent in cold weather. Indoor allergies, however, can be worse during the winter, according to Tucker. To keep mold and dust mites to a minimum, use a dehumidifier to maintain the humidity at home below 50 percent.
ENCOURAGES BETTER SLEEP
Your body’s core temperature drops when you’re trying to sleep. This process can take up to two hours in the summer, but it’s much faster in winter, says Tucker. Plus, with darker mornings, you naturally sleep later.
Yes, you might get more colds during the winter. However, studies have shown that the immune system can be activated by colder temperatures, which enhances our ability to fight infections, explains Tucker. That said, the flu virus thrives in cold, dry air, and time spent indoors increases your chance of infection. To reduce risk, get your annual flu shot, wash your hands frequently, and go outside.
STRENGTHENS YOUR HEART
In cold weather, the heart works harder during exertion to pump blood and maintain the body’s core temperature. That’s a good thing. “Exercising in the winter makes heart muscles stronger,” says Tucker. Once you warm up, you may be able to go farther than when it’s hot outside. But if you are at risk for heart disease, be careful when exercising outdoors in the cold; the extra stress can be problematic.