As much as we might try to not depend on the weather, handling frosty air and blistering winds when spring is almost nigh does become a challenge. One look at the weather forecast can be enough to stir up feelings of apathy and dampen our spirits. And as the days get longer, every grey sky and gusts of wind can knock us down. Can you relate? If so, it might be time to reconsider your relationship with cold temperatures.
Invigorating weather should be embraced in all of its manifestations, be it rainy Novembers or chilly summer evenings, snowy winters or late spring frosts. Scientists claim that there are benefits to all of these conditions for our emotional resilience and overall health. Here is why.
1/ Boosts immunity
Curiously, we are much more susceptible to cold than to heat. This is to do with the fact that the receptors responsible for perceiving warmth are located deeper in our bodies. Those that live in the northern regions are less susceptible to low temperatures than those that live in hot countries. Despite having the same receptors, their response to cold is more moderate. Why is that? Living in cold conditions increases one’s resistance to cold boosting our immunity and making our bodies stronger.
So, how do we typically deal with cold weather? That’s right: we dress warm and have a hot drink. But developing a stamina for chilly weather is much more beneficial than wearing that extra layer. Short-term cold exposure brings out bodies into a state of hormesis, i.e., good stress which activates our body’s energy reserves. This is where catecholamines come in: the hormones produced in our blood in response to cold that stimulate the functioning of our immune system.
2/ Trains the cardio-vascular system
According to Harvard Medical School’s research, intentional adaptation to cold has a positive overall impact on our bodies and our cardio-vascular system in particular. Our blood vessels constrict in response to low temperatures leading to a reduced blood flow to the skin’s surface. This reaction helps our bodies maintain heat while we channel our energy to keep the internal organs warm while our toes, fingers, nose and ears are the first to get cold. This is why you should always wear a hat in cold weather.
But it doesn’t mean layering up: moderately low temperatures naturally train our blood vessels. This is exactly why contrast showers are one of the best things you can do for your heart health. But just getting some fresh air is enough to give your body a sign that there can be a potential change of temperature, helping it adapt to the cold.
3/ Burns more calories
Another benefit of cold weather is that it burns calories. However, this only happens when we have the willpower to resist those fatty and sweet foods to counteract it. The human body releases a hormone known as irisin in response to being in a cold room. It is responsible for transforming white fat cells into brown ones. It is these cells that our body uses to warm up by essentially using it as fuel.
A few years ago, Finnish researchers discovered that people who spend more time outdoors, have a higher ratio of brown fat to those that work in an office with a comfortable temperature. A further study published by The New England Journal of Medicine in 2009 demonstrated the ability of low temperatures to activate brown fat metabolism in 23 out of 24 volunteers.
Moderation is key here. If exposure to cold is so prolonged and intense that instead of feeling invigorated you cannot stop shivering and your fingers are going numb, a temperature shock of this kind can cause more harm than good. Not to mention that it would be much harder to say no to that hot coffee and croissant, meaning that instead of cultivating the beneficial brown fat you will in fact increase the amounts of the harmful white kind.
4/ Improves sleep quality
Circadian rhythms cause the temperature of our body to drop when we fall asleep. But any disruptions to our natural sleep-wake cycle caused by a change of time zones or late nights out prevent the body from regulating its temperature in the right way. This results in difficulties falling asleep and even insomnia.
It is in your control to help your body recover its thermoregulatory functions. It is as simple as opening a window in your bedroom to let the temperature drop to around 16-19℃. That is not to say that you should ditch your warm blanket. As they say, it is all about keeping your head cool.
This is supported by evidence from one peculiar study which offered participants suffering with insomnia a cooling headgear to wear at night. And it worked: the average time it took these participants to fall asleep was a mere 13 minutes compared to the control group (with no sleep concerns) who took 3 minutes longer. The quality of sleep also varied significantly. Most volunteers who wore cooling hats did not wake up in the middle of the night and slept about 89% of the time which sits within the norm.
5/ Activates creativity
It might come as a surprise but the air temperature in the room can influence our behaviour and cognitive abilities. The sensation of being warm physically literally makes our interactions with others warmer, while cold stimulates individual creative abilities.
A study conducted by Dutch scientists discovered that cold helps people identify metaphors, activate abstract thinking and come up with new names for pasta products. The study did not elaborate on the significance of focusing on pasta and why this pasta naming superpower might benefit our everyday life. However, it does go to great lengths in explaining the mechanisms behind it. Apparently, low temperatures stimulate a referential type of information processing, making our thinking more flexible and original. Clearly, this ability goes beyond pasta naming and can apply to any creative pursuits as a whole.
How to fall in love with cold?
If your typical winter attire consists of a woolly sweater, warm socks, a scarf, a hat and a bulky coat you will likely want to shed all of these layers come March. While draping yourself in silk might not be the best idea as the last snowflake melts, balance is key. Medical professionals recommend getting dressed to make sure you do not get overheated on a brisk walk, meaning that it might be time to put your winter coat away. However, thermal underwear might still come in handy.
Increasing your fitness levels
Regular workouts have a positive influence on our mood, energy levels and overall state. If you are someone who has been avoiding the gym in winter, take your time as you make your way back. Start small with at-home routines or a couple of yoga classes a week to increase your overall fitness. Walk more and opt for active leisure.
Finding it hard to motivate yourself for that morning run when it is cold outside? Remember, active physical movements boost your circulation and help you stay warm. Bad weather should not be an excuse to cancel a run but it might be a good reason to choose more appropriate clothing and running shoes.
A little bit less hygge
While we all love watching a film or reading a book wrapped in a cosy warm blanket, it might be time to drop this habit. Cold activates our defence mechanisms, so why not embrace it? Do you feel chilly? Instead of reaching out for the nearest blanket, put your book aside for a few minutes and do several push-ups instead.
Do not forget to air your room regularly, be it at home or in your office. It should not come as a surprise, but fresh air eliminates harmful bacteria. Opening a window for a mere 5-10 minutes will do the trick. This way you will slowly get used to the change in temperature and will get to appreciate the benefits of working in a well-ventilated space for your productivity and wellbeing.