Stay Warm for Your Health

As children, everyone was told, by a parent or grandparent that being cold could make you ill. We were bundled up before going out into the snow and not permitted to play outside until our hair was dry. But, how accurate is that old wives’ tale?

Cold weather will not make you sick in and of itself. You won’t become ill from merely being too cold. However, the cold can negatively impact your immune system and some viruses like cold weather more than warm.

Wet hair, or being wet, will not increase your chances of becoming ill with an upper respiratory condition,” said Shannon Fecher, ARNP, UnityPoint Health. “But, if you become overly cold and suffer from hypothermia, you can weaken your immune system, increasing your chances of getting sick.

Death rates peak in the winter, and blood pressure increases — heightening your risk for heart problems. In addition to heart problems, deaths from respiratory diseases — including the flu — spike in cold weather. Additionally, a lake of vitamin D, created in your body by exposure to sunlight, may contribute to lower health. When combined with a weak immune system, that can lead to poorer health overall.

The cold virus thrives at temperatures of around 91 degrees, cooler than your body is typically. But when you are breathing in cold air, your nose becomes chilled inside and out, suddenly becoming the perfect spot for the virus to spread. Moreover, colds spread more easily in cold, dry weather than when temperatures and humidity are high. A humidifier could help you and your family avoid illness this year.

Bolstering your immunity with warm drinks, frequent hand-washing and plenty of sleep can help you. While being inside keeps you warm, it also keeps you in closer contact with the people in your life, which could increase your risks for picking up a bug. Going outside, while bundled up, lets you stay healthy, get fresh air and exposes you to sunlight. Using a scarf over your nose and mouth can keep the temperature in your body more stable than they otherwise would be.

Eating well and healthily can be a significant benefit. If you are going to be out and about where it’s cold, it’s a good idea to have eaten a meal with more calories than you plan on burning. “It always helps to be well-fed… when it’s cold,” said Loren Greenway, CEO of the Wilderness Medical Center in Salt Lake City, UT. “This is all-important, to keep your blood sugar [steady] enough to provide the energy you need to keep warm in a cold situation.” Additionally, he added, “Your body will tolerate the cold much better if food and water balance are maintained.”

If you are concerned about your health this season, follow the buddy system. Contact a friend or neighbor and check in on each other regularly, especially in there is a cold snap. Just touch base to make sure you’re both healthy and that nothing dreadful — like the pipes bursting — has happened. Another thing you can do to avoid illness is forgoing that holiday tipple. While you may enjoy the flavor and warming sensation of an alcoholic winter beverage, it actually decreases your core temperature. Keeping your hands and feet warm is essential as well. We suggest cozy socks and a lovely cup of warm tea to keep you warm and get you in the spirit of the season!

Speak to your doctor about risks that might be specific to you this winter. Together, you can come up with a plan to suit your needs. Hopefully, some of these tips will help you have a happy and healthy winter even when the weather outside is frightful!
December 04, 2019
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