How Cold Weather Affects the Body
By: Stephanie Ruopp
Winter is here.
It’s the time of year when we hunch ourselves up while burrowing under heavy coats.
And there’s no doubt that cold weather affects the body in a different way than its warmer cousin.
Of course, such hunching makes our muscles tighter and less mobile. But colder muscles are also more naturally tight. That’s why we warm them up before we exercise.
Plus, with less sunlight, we have less exposure to vitamin D during the winter months. This can impact the joints.
Winter Is Hard on the Body
Cold weather places physiological stresses on the body.
The good news is, the healthier and more fit you are, the more easily you’ll be able to cope with these stresses.
High impact activities such as running become more difficult in the winter months though. Particularly if you do them outdoors.
Along with the dangers of ice and snow, there is the increased risk of injury that comes with colder joints and muscles. So winter is the ideal time to allow your body to stretch and open in a mindful manner.
The movements in Pilates and GYROTONIC® are highly effective in keeping the muscles and joints supple and stretched during these colder months.
Why Cold Weather Affects the Body
In an effort to stay warm, the body engages in a process called peripheral vasoconstriction. What this essentially means is that your body reduces the circulation to the extremities and skin surface so that the core, torso, and head (where the vast majority of our organs live) can stay warm.
All of this, unfortunately, diminishes your body’s immune response. The reduction in blood flow equates to fewer white blood cells available to fight disease. That’s why we tend to get sick a lot more in the winter months.
It’s also why we urinate a lot more in the winter.
With the increase in arterial blood pressure, the kidneys jump into action to reduce the pressure. They do this by removing water to the bladder to be lost as urine. In case you want to know (mostly for the purpose of playing trivia games), this is called cold diuresis.
So Why Does the Cold Cause Pain and Stiffness?
With so much of the blood flow focused on the central part of the body, the arms, legs, shoulders, and knees aren’t getting as much.
Less blood flow renders the muscles in these areas colder and stiffer – which can lead to discomfort and pain.
As for increased pain and stiffness in the joints, there are many theories.
One popular theory is that the body reacts to fluctuating barometric pressure. With a drop in barometric pressure, air molecules and gases expand. The theory is that this lowered pressure can cause the gases and fluids in our joints to expand in a similar way.
This creates pressure on nerves and sensitizes them to pain.
Furthermore, if you have areas where you’ve experienced micro trauma (i.e. arthritic joints or scarred muscle) the expanding and contracting tissues of different densities beside theses areas can increase stiffness and pain.
From there, tendons, muscles, and the surrounding tissues may expand in these confined spaces and create more pain.
Then there’s also the impact of one’s mood during winter months. If you tend to feel more down or depressed when it’s cold and cloudy, your perception of pain can be magnified.
The Good News about Cold Weather
On a positive note, all of the mechanisms your body employs to keep you warm actually ramp up calorie consumption. When you shiver, you’re activating brown fat and the hormone irisin – both of which aid in burning fat.
Then again, most of us tend to consume more calories during the winter months to stay warm.
So the best thing you can do is to keep moving – even though this may seem counterintuitive if you’re already experiencing pain and stiffness.
Always engage in proper warm-up and stretching to keep the body limber and prevent stiffness from turning into an injury. And it’s crucial to engage in a level of exercise that’s appropriate for you.
Controlled movements like those done in Pilates and GYROTONIC® will safely ease stiffness, strengthen muscles, improve circulation, decrease strain on joints, help maintain bone density, improve sleep, and boost mood. All of these lead to reduced pain.
And don’t forget – spring is just around the corner!
Keep on Moving through the Winter
Cold weather affects the body in different ways for different people.
So if you’d like to see how Pilates and/or GYROTONIC® could give you less pain this winter, then contact us today.
One of our highly skilled Pilates instructors will be happy to discuss your goals with you.