Winter Wonderland?


By Dr. Michelle Zarrillo

Are you longing for balmy summer days?  Are you dreaming of a winter holiday to Florida?  Do you need to read The Long Winter just to encourage yourself for another cold season?  Before you start your packing, your flip flops, sit back, make a warm cup of coffee and consider that there is a purpose for cold.  You may even find it something you actually enjoy.

Longevity. Multiple studies have been done that suggest cold weather increases life span. One study shows a 20 percent increase in life span by reducing core body temperature.  Enduring a few months of cold could pay off in huge lifetime benefits. One study I found amazing showed the lifespan of mussels went from 29 years in a Mediterranean climate to over 200 years in a frigid climate. Perhaps the snowbirds are not reaping all the health they could.

Fat burning. Did you know that exposure to freezing temperature will increase your metabolism for hours after, even if it is for a short time? Exposure to cold has also been shown to burn fat better. Your body must burn more calories, just to maintain body temperature. Your body stores two types if fat, brown and white.  Brown fat is more difficult to mobilize, but it is tapped into during body temperature regulation. So just being out in the cold helps us lose weight.

Bug riddance. As temperatures drop, certain disease caring critters cannot survive. Mosquitoes carry a multitude of disease and they need milder weather to survive.  Flies carry disease as well and also decrease in colder weather. Ticks carry a huge host of disease and have a decrease in winter months. Although it has to get below freezing to really see a tic safer environment (unless you go to Antarctica, it is not a tic safe environment.). Also, ticks carry so many diseases, some estimate over 300 different strands, and it is nice to not have to deal with the critters.

Exercise perks. Exercising in cold weather heaps benefits upon benefits. We already mentioned the increased fat burning in winter exercise.  We also get the benefit of mood enhancement. Endorphins, produced by exercise, elevate moods; this can be especially beneficial during the dark depressing winter days, when we are all closed indoors. Athletes use ice therapy to reduce inflammation, while exercising outside in the cold produces this as an added benefit. People with arthritis sometimes notice an increase of pain in the colder months, but this could be due to the lower barometric pressure, not the temperature decrease. It is still important to keep joints moving and lubricated during the winter months. The body releases a chemical called norepinephrine, in the polar bear weather, that decreases pain three fold. Cold weather exercise is less taxing on the body, as compared to muggy heat, also. Lots of marathon programs tap this fact and schedule their event in the fall or winter.  The added layers of cloth also help us keep a proper mind set about exercise. No one looks attractive dressed like an Oompa Loompa, so we can focus on the exercise, not our appearance.

As you hunker down for the winter, don’t lose hope. There are benefits to experiencing the seasons and winter has its place. Cold weather is not just something to endure, but to experience. Put on a coat and step outside. Experience every season, as your health will reap the benefits.


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