General winter

General Winter, General Frost or General Snow is what the winter climate of Russia was called as it was considered the most responsible factor for the military failures of several invasions of Russia.

Maybe “General Winter” is a myth perpetuated to rationalise the defeats of the “invincible” Western military force. Historians say that Napoleon’s and Hitler’s plans started failing well before the winter, but it cannot be denied that severe winter conditions contributed greatly to their troubles.

Winter comes regularly every year at the same time of the year, never failing to appear, so it should not be a surprise, but we are never really ready for its arrival. Being prepared for the usual winter reality and possible hazards will be a stronger guarantee to stay safe and healthy when temperatures start to fall.

In the winter, as temperatures drop, weather-related health problems start to rise as cold weather brings a number of risks, especially for older adults and small children.

How does cold weather affect health?

We have different ideas and perceptions of cold, but is cold always bad or can it be good for us? Considering the effects of cold weather, particularly the effects on health and how the human body responds to low temperatures, some are expected, others are sometimes surprising. Your health can be affected for good or ill depending on your response to the different aspects of winter.

Winter has been scientifically proven to be a “crappy” time of the year for the body and mind.

Physical risks associated with cold

Cold diminishes the immune response and cold weather results in less blood supply to the extremities in order to preserve body heat in the core of the torso and head. This means there are less white blood cells available to fight disease.
Colds and flu are NOT caused by cold weather, they are caused by viral infections of the upper respiratory tract that you catch from others.

We are more likely to be indoors with other people and ventilation is likely to be worse than when it is warmer. Covering the nose to keep it warm is a way of trying to reduce the chances of catching a cold.

The common cold is the most prevalent human disease, with adults getting 2-5 colds a year. For children this rate is doubled and it is up to 12 a year for schoolchildren. It seems to be spread mainly by touch of contaminated surfaces, though air-borne infection is also important. There are no actual cures for the common cold. Any remedies are about alleviating the symptoms until the immune system can remove the infection. In fact, in the case of the common cold, it is the immune system itself that causes the symptoms as it fights the infective viruses.

The flu virus tends to fly around more easily in cold air. Even if it is cold, wash your hands properly, please!

Cold and dry air are a particular trigger of asthma attacks, so it is wiser to stay indoors or wear a scarf over the mouth so that very cold air is not breathed in so quickly. Breathing through the nose rather than the mouth helps to warm the air up too.

Winter temperatures can also cause cardiovascular problems. The pressure of having to keep the body warm in the winter puts a strain on the heart.

People who suffer from indoor allergies have a much harder time managing those allergies when they are trapped inside because of harsh conditions.

The winter air makes your skin super dry because there is less humidity and the dry winter air is tough on the eyes too, causing eye irritation, which is especially annoying for people who use contact lenses.

People suffering from diabetes need to be especially careful too, as it is much harder for the body to control glucose levels in the winter cold environment.

Cold temperatures cause barometric pressure to decrease and this drastic change can lead to severe migraines.

It is well known that low temperatures can increase swelling in the joints, making life much more difficult for people with arthritis.

Psychological effects of cold weather

I am sure you are well aware of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), but did you know why the winter makes people more depressed? It is simply because the brain is sensitive to low temperatures, just like the body. When it gets too cold, the brain responds by releasing chemicals that make the person feel miserable.

Lack of light during the winter can negatively affect your sleep cycle, which means that many people find themselves feeling tired throughout the day.

Gaining weight in the winter is also a problem, since our bodies crave warm, comforting dishes when temperatures drop. That is why it is called “winter weight”.

There are studies showing that people are less inclined to have violent thoughts when the weather is cold, so that is one good thing about winter!

But it is said that winter temperatures can kill your sex drive. Nevertheless sex is a very effective way to bring up the body temperature!

People seek out physical and psychological warmth during the winter, which seems to increase romantic comedy viewership. Well, it can be good … or bad.

An interesting experiment placed people in a prisoner’s dilemma, where some people were asked to hold ice packs and the others held hand warmers. When asked if they’d defend their friends or rat them out, those holding hand warmers were less likely to rat their friends out than those holding ice packs. Cold hands, warm hearts… warm hands, cold hearts…

Maybe we should all move to a country which is warm all the year round, for all our winter cold period… or just permanently!

Best health wishes,
Dr. Maria Alice