How Winter Affects the Body
Who doesn’t love a winter wonderland? The bright white snow and peaceful natural landscape make winter one of the best seasons for stepping back, relaxing and taking a breather from the overstimulation of daily life. But along with gorgeous snowscapes and festive holiday décor, winter brings with it a barrage of negatives as well. That’s perhaps most evident in the way it affects our bodies. From dry, cracking skin to more aches and pains than usual, the bitter cold sure takes a toll. Here are some specific ways we see our bodies change in the winter.
- It Zaps Moisture from the Skin — Did you know that skin cells actually shrink when it’s cold out, which breaks down proteins and zaps the skin of moisture? That’s why your skin turns into a sandpapery mess and our lips crack and bleed when it’s cold out. So how do we stop this from happening? We can’t emphasize it enough: Use your face and body cream every single day in the winter, sometimes multiple times! Just make sure you choose one that’s formulated specifically for your skin type. For example, using a gel moisturizer for oily skin can help quench the worst winter dry patches without making the oily zones worse. On the other hand, a quality moisturizer for dry skin will double-down on the hydration to get skin back in great shape.
- It Worsens Skin Irritation — We all know that dry skin equals painful, cracked, irritated skin, which is why things tend to get very bad in the cold, dry months. Whether you’ve got the standard sensitivities or are dealing with chronic skin issues, winter tends to worsen even the worst cases. This is especially true for those who don’t halt skin-triggering activities like shaving (hence why it’s so important to use a quality razor bump cream). Again, proper skincare is your best buddy here, as it can help correct dry, irritated skin and also add a layer of protection against the dry, stinging air.
- It Makes It Harder to Breathe — People with congestive obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma and other chronic respiratory diseases may find it harder to breathe when the air is bitter cold. That’s because these conditions cause inflamed, irritated lungs, which are worsened by low temps. At the same time, they cause the airways to swell up and narrow and the muscles to become tense, which triggers pain, wheezing and trouble breathing. It’s extra important for people with respiratory illnesses to limit their exposure to cold weather and make sure to stay on their medication year-round.
- It Exacerbates Aches and Pains — If you have arthritis or another chronic inflammatory disease, you know that weather can cause stubborn flare-ups. This happens for two reasons. First, the barometric pressure in the atmosphere tends to decrease in cold and wet weather, which forces the body’s tissues to expand, effectively sending pain signals to the brain. Secondly, we tend to be less active and more isolated in the winter, which can contribute to more stress, depression and anxiety, and may have a significant physiological effect that could actually worsen arthritis pain.
- It Boosts Metabolism and Burns More Calories — During the winter, the body releases hormones that increase energy expenditure, which causes it to experience a spike in metabolism. This, coupled with the fact that our body is working extra-hard to keep us warm, contributes to about a 34 percent increase in calories burned when you’re being active in the wintertime. So what we’re trying to say is, if you want to lose weight, you might want to consider getting involved in an active winter sport, like cross-country skiing or snow-shoeing, to reap the benefits of those extra calories burned!
- It Makes Us Want to Eat More — Pretty much everyone seems to gain weight in the winter, and there may be a biological explanation for it. Some scientists believe that eating provides a major contribution to maintaining body heat, which is why we tend to want to scarf down hot, hearty foods when it’s cold out. At the same time, the body naturally moves into an insulin-resistant state in the colder months in order to help it optimize performance with the least amount of food. This can lead to the development of weight gain and diabetes because the body tells the liver to boost fat production and store more fat for the winter. It’s important to resist binging on high-calorie foods to warm up!
- It Worsens Allergies — When we think of allergies, we often think of the persistent sneezing and watery eyes associated with springtime, but did you know that the winter season can actually mess up our allergies, too? Chilly temps are not good for people with year-round allergies (perennial allergic rhinitis) either. This is because we tend to spend so much more time indoors exposed to many frustrating allergy triggers, such as dry air, mold, dust and dander.
- It Causes Fatigue and Depression — Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a surprisingly common condition that causes feelings of depression at the same time each year. For many people, the feelings begin to appear as the temperatures drop from mild to severe, although some people may actually experience SAD during the warmer months as well. Seasonal depression can lead to chronic fatigue, as well as feelings of anxiety and lethargy.
- It Lowers Circulation — When we’re cold, our bodies don’t circulate blood as efficiently as they do when we’re warm and toasty. That’s because the blood vessels and arteries narrow in cold weather, which effectively slows down how much blood and oxygen reaches the heart. We all know this causes the occasional feeling of numb fingers and toes, but lower circulation levels can have a surprisingly big impact on the body as a whole, leading to everything from achy joints to a runny nose.