How Does Winter Impact our Health?

by Wellness Editor – MH

It’s pretty safe to assume that most people don’t particularly care for the winter season. Sure, there are exceptions – if you’re an avid skier or snowboarder, winter might be the perfect time of year for you – but most of us associate winter with frigid temperatures, outbreaks of cold and flu, horrendous weather, car and traffic problems caused by said weather and dead-black skies by 5PM. No wonder so many people look forward to spring and summer.

All of these factors can exact a heavy toll on your emotional and physical wellbeing. Many people claim that the harsh winter environment makes them feel more stressed, tired and depressed than usual. If these feelings sound familiar, you can take heart that they might not be all in your head; Old Man Winter can indeed have a negative impact on our overall health. The following list details how the wrath of winter impacts various parts of the body.

Lips – Our lips can be very susceptible to wear and tear, both from our own bodies (from heavy breathing from the mouth) and outside elements. This is especially true during winter, with its cold winds and temperatures sapping moisture from the lips. Dry lips, of course, are very prone to noticeable chapping, cracking and peeling.

Skin – Like our lips, our body’s skin can lose a good deal of moisture due to the unforgiving winter climate. In temperatures below freezing, skin that is not covered by winter clothing is vulnerable to both frostnip and frostbite. Frostnip affects the outer layers of the skin, causing our fingers, toes, and nose to feel cold and eventually turn red and numb. If these parts of the body are not soon warmed, they can develop frostbite, a condition that can lead to permanent tissue damage.

Waistline – The notion that a change of seasons can lead to weight gain might initially seem questionable. However, research has shown that people tend to exercise less during the winter months. This might be due to the shorter amount of daylight in the winter, which can discourage people from leaving the house. In addition, exercise tends to have an inverse relationship with unhealthy eating habits – the less you get of one, the more you get of the other.

Mental Health – Given the early sunsets and hostile weather, you might find yourself feeling downbeat and dejected on more than a few occasions from December through March. If you’ve noticed this correlation, you are hardly alone – numerous studies have found that depression is far more common in the icy throes of winter than in the sunny summer. In fact, this condition even has its own name, as seasonal affective disorder (or SAD, an apt acronym if there ever was one) is estimated to impact 10 million Americans.

Heart – The link between winter weather and serious heart problems has some well-respected supporters, most notably the American Heart Association (AHA), which notes that the frequency of heart attacks doubles during the winter season. Though this connection might sound a bit baffling, it actually makes sense when one considers all the effort it takes to clear mounds of snow and ice from driveways and sidewalks. All of this heavy lifting and shoveling can be exhausting to anybody, but can be downright deadly for those who are significantly out of shape and/or have heart problems. For people who fall into these categories, the AHA recommends taking frequent breaks during shoveling, and urges against eating big meals beforehand.

Shoveling Injuries – Your heart isn’t the only body part that can be damaged from purging mounds of snow from your driveway. Each year, approximately 11,000 people in the United States are hospitalized due to injuries sustained while shoveling snow. The most common reasons for hospitalization include head injuries, muscle sprains, fractures, cuts and lower back problems.

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