Short exposure to cold air or water has been shown to increase the circulation of immune cells, improve respiratory tract health and reduce levels of stress hormones. But it is not just the immune system that benefits. The blood of healthy people exposed to cold conditions also shows changes associated with better cognitive function, more efficient muscle activity, and improved metabolism. This may explain why some studies have reported reductions in fatigue among those exposed to cold.
Cold May Help You Sleep Better
Our bodies have a circadian rhythm that allows our bodies to self-regulate our eating, sleeping, and activity habits under day-night cycles. Research shows that a disruption in circadian rhythms can cause sleep disturbances, leading to various health issues.
Insomnia and other sleep problems have been proven to impair perceptual and cognitive performance and increase the risk of renal disease and diabetes.
According to research, our body temperature declines when we fall asleep. On the other hand, insomnia appears to be unable to regulate body heat properly, resulting in difficulty falling asleep. This is when the external temperatures enter the picture. In one research, insomniacs benefited from exposure to “cooling caps” — headgear that maintains the sleeper’s head at cooler temperatures — and were able to get a better night’s sleep due to the exposure.
The optimal temperature in our bedrooms as we prepare to sleep should be between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit (15°C to 19°C) according to current sleep standards. The key message is that you shouldn’t be cold — it won’t help you sleep — but somewhat cold environments may.
It Stimulates Your Appetite
Research published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition appears to back up the traditional maxim that when the temperature drops, our hunger increases. The authors conclude, “The current investigation indicated that minor seasonal fluctuations in daily calorie intake, food composition, physical activity, and body weight are prevalent in normal people in the United States.”
Another study with pigs, which have a physiological makeup comparable to humans, found that the animals ate less when the temperature was higher, but their hunger increased when the temperature was lower.
Another study indicated that being active in a chilly atmosphere boosts our perception of hunger, this time looking at the influence of intensive aerobic activity and ambient temperature on calorie intake. If you’re having trouble eating healthy portions, a quick walk or run in the crisp winter air right before a meal may help to stimulate your appetite.
Cold Helps You Burn Fat
On the other hand, if you’re worried that your propensity to eat more this time of year will result in undesirable weight gain, fear not: the cold may also help you lose weight.
White and brown fat are the two forms of fat that our bodies store. Since it merely accumulates, the former is commonly referred to as “bad fat.” And, if it builds up too much, it may lead to obesity or being overweight. Brown fat, on the other hand, is “good fat” since it is the fuel that our bodies use to generate energy.
It’s no surprise, therefore, that researchers are continually looking for new strategies to encourage the body to convert its white fat reserves to brown fat. Exposure to colder temperatures is the most common method of “browning” white fat.
According to research published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation, our bodies will make efforts to stay warm throughout winter, needing dipping into the fat reserve for fuel. In adults, exposure to low temperatures may trigger brown fat metabolism. This describes a mild cold that does not cause shivering.
Brown fat activity is “controlled from the brain, depending on the demand for heat for body temperature regulation,” according to the authors of an editorial published with this research.
“The heat comes from the burning of stored lipid inside brown adipose tissue at first,” they add, “but during extended (heat generation), the components of ingested food are directed to the tissue as a constant source of the substrate.”
Shiver away the extra weight
Furthermore, experts have shown that shivering on its own boosts fat burning. According to research published in the journal Cell Metabolism, shivering boosts the release of irisin, a fat-burning hormone. It appears that shivering for 15 minutes in a chilly atmosphere has the same impact as exercising for an hour.
More adventurous companies have come up with a solution to amplify the effect: wearing an ice vest. This vest is meant to help the user burn up to 250 calories in an hour. However, even the vest’s creator warns that the equipment isn’t a wonder worker and that you won’t miraculously become fit without a proper diet.
It Help Get Rid of Inflammation and Pain
Another well-known advantage of being exposed to low temperatures is that it reduces inflammation on a local level. Many of us may recall being taught as children to apply an ice-cold compress to a head injury that occurred during a sports accident.
Ice or a compress soaked in cold water has traditionally been used to treat a broad range of bumps and bruises, but we should be cautious about how much cold we apply to each kind of inflammation and each individual.
According to naturopath Christopher Vassey, author of Natural Remedies for Inflammation, “the quantity of cold administered to the body should not exceed the body’s capacity to neutralize it.”
However, others claim that treating inflammation with cold water is not more successful than other healing methods. Even yet, ice pops are still often used to relieve a sore throat since they numb nerve receptors in the throat and lessen discomfort.
According to researchers from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD, cryotherapy — a treatment that involves exposure to cold — may be helpful in alleviating local pain. However, it may be ideal to use cold compresses combined with medicine and other therapies, as needed.
Effects on the Mind
Sadly, many individuals link the cold season with negative emotions and exhaustion due to seasonal affective disorder, a kind of depression that often emerges in the winter. However, it’s not all doom and gloom; studies have shown that cold or unfavorable weather has some unexpected benefits.
According to research from the University of Newcastle in the United Kingdom, we prefer to make longer phone calls but fewer individuals when the weather is unfavorable, such as on chilly days. This implies that when the weather prevents us from participating in other activities, we choose to remain at home or near home and reconnect with the people who matter most to us.
Another study implies that cold environments may encourage a sort of creativity known as “referential creativity,” which is based on “cold signals.” They claim that cool temperatures help us recognize analogies, generate new pasta names, and “be abstract in coming up with gifts.”