Cold weather isn’t pleasant for many people, but did you know it can also affect your body?
From your heart to your immune system, cold weather and health side effects can go hand in hand. And while many of the effects of cold weather on the human body are negative, there are some positives, too.
Immune system health
You’ve probably heard that there are some illnesses caused by cold weather, like the flu or a common cold. This isn’t true at all, but you are more likely to get sick when it’s cold outside.
There are a few reasons for this:
- First, your immune system that keeps you from getting sick is weaker when you’re cold. Your blood doesn’t flow as freely throughout your body, so you may have fewer white blood cells floating around. Those are the blood cells that fight infection.
- Second, viruses are more likely to survive and spread when your nose is cold.
- And third, you’re more likely to be indoors when it’s cold outside. That means you’ll be around more people and expose yourself to more illnesses.
You can help your immune system out during the cold weather months by staying hydrated, eating healthy and washing your hands often.
Cold weather can also affect your heart. In fact, heart attacks are more common in the winter months than at any other time of year. The main reason for this is that cold narrows your blood vessels. When you are too cold, your blood pressure rises and your heart strains to pump blood to keep you warm. This can also be a factor.
Exercising on a consistent basis during the winter months can help keep your heart strong.
There are several effects of cold weather on skin, too. First, you’re more likely to have dry skin during the winter. This is due to the low humidity outside and the artificial heat inside. Dry skin can be painful, itchy and irritating. If it’s not treated, it can lead to bigger health issues, like infections or eczema.
You can also experience issues like windburn and frostbite when you’re out in the cold. Windburn can make your skin – especially on your face – red, dry and swollen.
When it’s cold and windy outside, it’s best to keep your face and as much of your skin as you can covered. Frostbite occurs when you’ve been in the cold too long. It can cause permanent damage to the tissue and blood vessels in your skin.
Cold, dry air can also irritate your lungs. This is especially true for people who already have breathing problems, like asthma or COPD. You may find yourself coughing or wheezing more. You may even become short of breath.
Balance and mobility
While the cold itself may not affect your balance and mobility, the weather conditions that often come with it can. Wet or icy sidewalks can cause you to slip and fall. This can lead to bruises, cuts, broken bones and head, joint or back injuries. Extreme winds can also make it harder to keep your balance.
So, if you venture outside during inclement winter weather, be sure you are prepared and carefully navigate.
Cold can even affect your mental health. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) affects many people each year as the weather grows colder and the days grow shorter. It’s a type of depression that can lead to moodiness, sadness, lack of interest and low energy. For most people, it starts in the fall and lasts through the winter months.
Make sure you are keeping tabs on your mental health at this time. And talk to someone if you feel you are struggling.
Cold weather can interfere with your lifestyle, too. For example, you may stay indoors more, which means you might spend more time sitting around rather than staying active. If so, you’ll lose muscle mass and strength. You’ll also likely gain weight. Over time, an unhealthy lifestyle can cause long-term health issues, such as obesity, heart disease and other health issues.
Make sure you are staying active during the winter months! There are many wonderful indoor exercise options available to try.
If you’re worried about the effects of cold weather on your body, take some time out to talk to your primary care provider. They can help you find ways to stay healthy, even during the winter.
Learn more about the primary care services we offer at Bon Secours.