10 ways in which the winter affects your body

10 ways in which the winter affects your body

Body changes with change in season is normal - here's how winter impacts our bodies.

If you are not as lucky as all those Californians and Floridians and have to suffer the wrath of the winter wind, this article is for you. With a rapid change in weather and sudden temperature drops comes equally speedy body effects—some positive, some negative. Here's how you can make informed decisions about how to dress and treat your body this winter. 

Dr Albert Ahn, a clinical instructor of internal medicine at NYU Langone Health, has studied these mind and body changes that occur with a fluctuation in temperature and advises us towards keeping them in mind and acting accordingly towards preventing the harmful changes. 

1.Your otherwise long and slender fingers might shrink


Do your rings and gloves feel a little loose in the winter months? It's not the time to buy new ones—it's only time to wait for summer to come back and fatten those fingers again. Extremities such as your fingers and toes swell up in hotter climates, and reduce back to their normal size in the cold. 

Dr Ahn explains this phenomenon when he says, “Cold weather tends to constrict the blood vessels to preserve body heat and maintain core body temperature... that might mean you end up getting slightly less blood flow to your extremities, which could make your fingers feel like they’re smaller."

This is also why you should not buy rings in the winter and shoes at night. Even though diarnal changes in your body are close to insignificant, shoes bought during the night (when it is usually slightly colder) might seem a little tight the next morning because your toes might have expanded slightly due to the warmer temperature. 

2.More than usual pain in your extremities


Most people living in cold countries experience a mild version of Raynaud's Disease—when your fingers and toes turn white and numb when exposed to temperature change or as a result of an increase in stress levels in the winters. Dr Ahn explains that this could be caused by the smaller arteries that supply blood to the skin narrowing excessively with a change in weather.

“It’s not dangerous, but it can be very uncomfortable or painful" He further suggests wearing warm clothes, and avoiding spending too much time in sub-zero temperatures to ease the pain.

3.More effortless calories burnt. Yayy!


Your basal metabolic rate, the number of calories you burn without any physical exertion whatsoever, increases with a drop in temperature. Any guesses as to why? The body has to work harder to maintain it's body temperature. However, the number of calories that you burn isn't enough to forego your gym membership for the winter months. 

In Ahn's words, “It’s not significant enough to notice a difference, but you do tend to burn more calories when the body is trying to keep itself warm."

4.You are more likely to get affected by a virus


It's not the cold wind that gets into you giving you a cold. The phrase "I've got a cold" is misleading, because you do not catch a cold, but a virus. 

Viruses that cause colds and flu prefer colder temperatures as discovered by a Yale University student who found that animal test subject was much less able to fight off a virus if their body temperature was a few degrees cooler than normal.

Furthermore, the colder you get, the more time you tend to spend indoors where more people have spent time probably coughing, sneezing and yawning increasing the number of viruses you are exposed to.

5.Your vision might suffer


With the temperatures dropping to below freezing point our body begins to change rapidly giving us minor signs to take action against the cold. When on the brink of hypothermia, the blood vessels in our eyes narrow in trying to conserve energy, which could possibly result in tempporary blindness. 

Furthermore, when sun bounces off snow piles in places in high altitude and hit your eye, they are strong enough to potentially cause a cornea injury or burn. It is best to wear proper eyewhere or sunglasses when heading out in critically cold temperatures for a long time.

6.The colour of your face changes


Did you ever wonder why when you step out in the cold your face takes on a pale hue, and when you head back indoors you seem to be flushing red?

When you are out in the cold, the blood from your face—especially your nose and cheeks— are redirected to more vital areas like your lungs and heart in an attempt to regulate the body temperature. However, once you are back in a warm room, the blood rushes back to your face making you turn red all of a sudden.

7.You might be at a greater risk of a heart attack


Even though this only might be true for older adults or people at risk for cardiac issues - it is important for everyone to keep in mine. 

Dr. Ahn explains how the drop in temperature can result in an increased risk for a heart attack when he says, “This increased risk isn’t just due to exertion because you’re shoveling snow..when the body is trying to preserve heat, it does increase the pressure on the heart. It has to work harder to pump blood to extremities. It can also increase blood pressure marginally.”

8.Your joints and muscles ache more than usual


When your blood vessels constrict due to the drop in temperature, the blood flow to your muscles and tendons isn't as swift as usual causing aches and pains in the areas which require a faster flow of blood. Exercising indoors and warming up before heading out for a jog is a good way to ensure normal and regulated blood flow in all parts of the body reducing aches and pains.

Colder weather also makes the fluid around your joints thicker. Researchers are studying if this has anything to do with why arthiritis sufferers notice their symptoms occuring more in the winter. However, the correlation is not confirmed yet and is still under investigation. 

9.You get goosebumps


Body hair of all mammals automatically stand up when the temperature outside is too low. This is body's way of attempting to create a thick layer of warmth. When we are cold, the muscles around the hair follicles contract—a continuin reflex passed on to us from our ancestors who once had long body hair. Since we have evolved to lose our long body hair, we see goose bumps on our skin instead.

10.Your brain chemistry undergoes change 


While we could blame the increasing hours of darkness on our mood swings, let's focus in on two chemicals—melatonin and serotonin—that could be responsible for our mood shifts.

Melatonin is produced by your brain's pineal gland when overshadowed with darkness. It's function is to prepare you to sleep, decreasing your ability to be alert while allowing you to drift off when you need to. 

In winter your maltonin levels increase drastically if you live in a place where the sunsets much sooner (5 - 6 pm) making you dreary and sleepy even though your watch might tell you that half the day is still left. 

Serotonin, in contrast, is a neurotransmitter in the brain that has to do with improved moods and increased alertness. With the setting of the sun, the production of serotonin decreases allowing the body to feel sleepy.

The combination of both—increase in melatonin and decrease in serotonin alongside of a dip in Vitamin D due to the lack of sun can often be enough to pull you down making you more likely to suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. 

However, on the bright side of things, plenty of exercise, exposure to daylight, eating Vitamin D supplements can help balance the chemicals in our brain leading to happier days. Here is another article on how one can combat winter blues.

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