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

Reader's Digest - - Contents - ISADORA BAUM AND JEN MCCAF­FERY



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.



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.



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.



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.

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