5 Surprising Ways Your Body Reacts to Cold, Winter Weather

If you live in a region where winters are long and bitterly cold—and oh, you just so happen to loathe winter weather—you know that February can feel like an endless assault on your skin, bones and sanity. Short, dark days inspire little motivation to get oxygen and endorphins flowing through your body. And when the fluffy snow that looks so pretty when it falls melts into slippery sheets of ice, venturing out not only becomes inconvenient but treacherous.

Winter can certainly do a number on your emotional state of mind, and surprisingly, your physical health too. Here’s a look at how different parts of your body react to harsh, winter weather:

Skin

Cold air, low humidity and dry, indoor heat are natural beauty’s mortal enemies as they draw moisture away from skin’s surface, leading to dryness and itchiness. Skin relies on natural oils and moisture-locking substances, such as ceramides and hyaluronic acid, to maintain health and radiance.

Hyaluronic acid is a hydrating, naturally occurring molecule found in skin that traps moisture in collagen tissue for smoothness and suppleness. One study called it “a key molecule in skin aging”.[*] Ceramides are also important, because they’re integral to skin’s moisture barrier and create a tight, protective seal that locks-in hydration while keeping pollutants out.

Give your skin a winter break with a serum or moisturizer that contains hyaluronic acid, phytoceramides or both. To boost your skin’s healthy foundation from the inside, try a collagen plus hyaluronic acid supplement.

Lungs

You’ve likely experienced taking a deep breath outdoors on a bone-chilling winter day and the choking feeling as your throat and lungs close in protest. It’s not only the icy temperatures that affect your respiratory system; the lack of humidity dries out the thin layer of protective fluid that coats your nose and throat.

Cold, dry air irritates lungs and causes airways to narrow, which can lead to a burning sensation and trigger respiratory issues. To breathe easier, try an NAC supplement that supports respiratory health and neutralizes free radicals that target lung tissue.

You can also combat the uncomfortable feeling and protect your respiratory system by breathing in through your nose to warm-up cold air before it reaches your lungs, and wear a mask or scarf over your nose when you head outdoors on extremely cold days. 

Nose

There’s one thing you can count on every winter, and that’s “winter nose”—dry, stuffy and irritated nasal passages, especially when you wake up. Sensing the imbalance, nerves in your nose communicate with your brain to increase blood flow, which can increase congestion.  

Help restore balance by using a cool mist humidifier to increase moisture content in your bedroom. A study by Environmental Health and Engineering shows that maintaining indoor air at a relative humidity (RH) level of 40%-60% can reduce the survival of harmful microbes on surfaces and in the air compared to lower RH levels.[*] 

Also, saline sprays can help restore moisture to dry, irritated noses in a pinch.

Immune system

To fight threats, your natural defense system needs to keep warm too. Blood vessels in the upper respiratory system constrict to preserve heat, which can block infection-fighting white blood cells from reaching the mucous membrane and reduce your resistance to germ and viral attacks.

Chilly temperatures can also compromise your immune system. Yale researchers discovered that when the temperature in the nose fell below core body temperature of 98.6° F (37° C) by just four degrees, it impaired key immune system proteins, allowing cold bugs to reproduce.    

Boost your immunity in the wintertime with black elderberry extract. This variety of the Sambucus nigra berry has a higher concentration of anthocyanins and polysaccharides—potent compounds that help support immune health. And you can’t go wrong with a daily dose of vitamin C, a tried-and-true ally scientifically shown to support healthy immunity in a multitude of ways.[*]   

Mind

Winter blues are real, particularly for those of us who live in cold, sunlight-deprived climates of the country. Months of isolation and biting weather can start to wear you out mentally and drain your energy, the result of a combination of biological and environmental factors. The effect can range from mild seasonal blues to serious disruptions to daily life.

The biggest culprit is insufficient sun exposure. Your body demands sunshine to help regulate your body clock, and sleep and happiness hormones including melatonin and serotonin, respectively. Skin receives the sun’s glorious UVA light and uses it to help synthesize vitamin D (fun fact: vitamin D is actually a hormone), a key contributor to these processes. 

It may be hard to do, but you can fill your happiness bucket by bundling up and being active outdoors, even if only for short, brisk walks throughout the day. Regular light exposure helps to reset your internal sleep/wake cycle, and the physical activity nudges your body to release mood-boosting endorphins.[*]

Your body and mind may be reacting strongly to winter’s chill, but the good news is there are many ways to be proactive about minimizing the effect on your wellbeing.

And remember—it’s only temporary. Before you know it, you’ll be removing layers and heading out to enjoy spring’s first blooms!

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