Each year I’m shocked by how many people complain bitterly about the cold weather. Here we are, a group of people who live in the north, where winter comes annually and yet, this glorious season gets an unnecessarily bad rap.
For with winter also comes the opportunity to leverage the unique health benefits of the cold and optimize your home for winter health. So, pull on your cozy socks and layer up as we uncover how to live your healthiest winter life.
Staying Inside all Winter is Bad for Your Health
Do you wonder why winter seems to be a time when people get sick frequently with colds, flus and other viruses, or even feel seasonally depressed?
While winter is chilly and getting outside seems daunting, the worst thing you can do is shut yourself off from the world and hibernate until the spring comes. Here’s why:
- Vitamin D is a critical vitamin for optimal health, yet about 40% of Canadians have been found to be below the optimal amount in winter, compared with 25% in the summer. Vitamin D enables the macrophages in our lungs – a first line of defence against respiratory infections discussed above – to spew out an antimicrobial peptide that kills bacteria and viruses.
- Viruses have a heyday in the winter as people pick them up in their travels, carry them back into their homes and deposit them on surfaces. With more time spent indoors, viruses are deposited and transmitted with more frequency than in the summer months.
- Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression thought to be caused by shorter days and less daylight triggering a chemical change in the brain, leading to symptoms of depression.
- When you remain indoors for long periods of time with the central heating on and the doors and windows shut, dust mites, mold spores, pet dander, or even allergens contained in Christmas trees circulate endlessly around your home. This can trigger allergic symptoms, particularly for those who have preexisting conditions like bronchitis, emphysema and asthma.
- And of course, it’s no mystery that if you eschew exercise in favour of nighttime snacks on the couch, weight gain will often ensue.
Why Cold Weather Is Good For You
For some, the concept of cold weather being good for your health is just plain crazy, but it’s actually true. Cold weather activities can bring you the following health boosts:
- Better cognitive function! Did you know that the brain needs glucose to function, but the body uses more of it when it’s warm to keep the brain cool, leaving less fuel for reasoning and recall? A 2017 study from Stanford University found that people perform some cognitive tasks, such as making decisions and staying calm, with more control and less impulsivity when the thermostat drops.
- Vitamin D. Granted, it can be tricky to get vitamin D when you’re covered in layers of clothing and the sun has a lower UV index. However, just 10 to 20 minutes of sun each day can make a difference. It is also recommended that most Canadians take a vitamin D supplement, especially during the winter.
- Weight loss and decreased inflammation. A recent Harvard Medical School study found that that cold exposure reduced inflammation and improved metabolism. Essentially, cold temperatures help burn fat faster and as many an athlete will tell you, ice baths after a major athletic undertaking are the best thing for reducing inflammation.
- Seasonal Affective Disorder. Getting out in the sunshine helps with SAD as does enabling sunshine to flow into your home.
- And let’s talk about the beauty aspect. People who spend time outdoors in the winter develop a healthy, radiant complexion, as cold temperatures (within reason of course) increase the blood circulation in both the face and the rest of your body, leading to reduced inflammation and puffiness.
Embrace Winter for Health Benefits
The great part is, it’s easy to get outside to receive all the winter health benefits. The key to having fun outside in the winter is to dress for it.
Get yourself quality long underwear (both top and bottom), two or three top layers that you can peel off if need be, and a warm coat that goes down to mid-thigh. Snow pants, a warm hat and gloves and good winter boots will complete your winter wear.
Now, choose your activity! If you don’t have equipment or are new to winter, why not try winter walks in your neighbourhood. Winter hiking is fantastic exercise and abounds in Canada.
If you’re feeling more adventurous, give skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing or ice skating a try. Or get out of the house for an impromptu snowball fight or tobogganing session.
Commit to getting out of the house and enjoying winter at least 3 times a week. If you have kids, why not try to get outside every day.
It’s important to get outside, but paying attention to indoor air quality is part of the health equation during winter. Improve air quality in your home by getting your air ducts cleaned and changing the furnace filter before winter. Dust your home and vacuum frequently in the winter months. Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter to avoid blowing dust back into the air. Consider using an air purifier.
And let us know on social media – what’s your favourite winter outdoor activity?