7 Chilling Ways Cold Weather Affects Your Health, From Sex to Sleep

BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 4: A woman walks down the street in the Back Bay a day after a winter storm January 4, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts. The storm began mid-day Thursday with heavy snows overnight into Friday bringing with it temperatures in the low single digits and a minus degree wind chill factor. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
Source: Darren McCollester/Getty Images News/Getty Images

According to a new study that surprises exactly no one, apparently, cold weather really does play a key role in getting you sick. A research team at Yale University found that the rhinovirus, that pesky thing on which we can blame the common cold, thrives in cold weather because it’s in “lower than average body temperature,” so the virus can really do it’s best work. In other words, this study confirms what your mother has been telling you for years: With colder weather comes more impaired immune systems, and that’s pretty much a welcome mat for the common cold. (Also, wear a sweater, why don't you?)

But in addition to giving you one hell of a cold and other obvious issues like hypothermia, the cold weather can also affect your body in ways that may have never crossed your mind. Yes, that's right — the cold actually IS the worst, and not just because you’ve declared it so after walking in it for a few minutes. It's wreaking more havoc on your body than you could have imagined. 

Not that you needed another reason to bundle up or complain this season, but here are seven ways — besides leaving you more vulnerable to sickness — that the cold weather affects your body.

It Can Bring on Migraines 

Well, well, well. Isn't this an interesting turn of events for this migraine suffer!

With temperature change comes the falling of the barometric pressure (the pressure within the atmosphere that is forced upon the air creating, well, pressure, and is most noticeable in drastic shifts in the weather and temperature). The pressure can be so intense with cold weather that it can lead to sinus issues and migraines, especially for those who already suffer from persistent migraines and sinus issues to begin with. 

It Can Trigger Cardiovascular Issues

The cold air makes your body work overtime, especially the lungs and heart, because they work in unison to keep that warm blood circulating without skipping a beat. This can cause blood pressure to rise, as blood vessels constrict so they can get back into the heart. Once your heart rate is elevated because of this vigorous effort, it can trigger "ventricular fibrillation." 

According to Harvard Medical School professor Dr. Anthony L. Komaroff, “With ventricular fibrillation, the heart muscle looks like a bag of worms; it’s wriggling around, not circulating blood through the body or brain. If that goes on for more than four minutes, the brain dies. That’s sudden death.” Yikes.

Combine that with the strenuous activity of shoveling heavy, wet snow, and you can definitely have a lethal situation on your hands. 

It Can Cause Lung Spasms

Cold weather is a nightmare for those who suffer from asthma and allergies because of how it affects the lungs. The exchange of the cold air going in with each inhale — and warm air going out with each exhale — can put the lungs in a real tizzy. When the airways are chilled, they respond by swelling and spasming. Even after just a minute in the cold weather, the lungs can begin to spasm, creating difficulty breathing for asthma patients, and wheezing for those who are allergy-prone. 

It Can Cause Depression

Seasonal affective disorder isn't just about short days and lack of sun, but also how your brain itself handles the cold weather. Just like your body when you're outside without a coat in 30 degree weather, your brain is very sensitive to low temperatures...and responds by being completely miserable. This can lead to not only depression, but "impaired judgment, confusion, slurred speech, and a decrease in level of consciousness." So wear a hat, okay? Help your gray matter out. 

It Can Kill Your Sex Drive

If the cold weather is totally bumming you out, then think about what it might be doing to your sex drive. While the minimal daylight in winter has a lot to do with a decreased sex drive (because serotonin production reduces), the cold itself also contributes to the reason why you just don’t want to get it on.

With the change in temperature comes a change in neurotransmitters, too, and although its effect varies from person to person, the depression, fatigue, and overall feeling of “meh” is definitely heightened in the colder months. So if you find you’re not in the mood these days, don’t worry about it. It’s just your brain telling you to hold out until the spring and summer, because your libido is in hibernation mode. It has to rest sometimes!

It Can Actually Cause Sleeplessness

Although shorter days can make you feel sleepy all the time, the cold itself actually doesn’t have the same effect. When you’re sleeping in a room where the air is too cold, it can mess with melatonin production and that, in turn, can disrupt the necessary sleep cycle that the body needs to feel fully rested. 

In contrast, a room that is too hot can dry out the body, especially the mucus membranes, which is an invitation for illnesses. You need to choose the lesser of two evils — or find that magical perfect temperature that keeps you sleeping all night and keeps you hydrated, too.

It Burns More Calories

This one can be bad or good, depending on who you are, I guess. Your body has "good" fat and "bad" fat, and just like the bread aisle, the good one is brown and the white one is bad. The cold weather activates that brown fat, because it's actually the fat in charge of keeping you warm, and therefore, calories are burned easier and quicker. 

So if you're worried about gaining winter weight, as some do this time of year, you can always just hang around outside and let your body do its thing — in head-to-toe wool and cashmere, of course. Or just go to the gym.

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