A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Beth Underwood: Some thoughts on the ‘benefits’ of cold weather as the chill of winter fast approaches

As many of you may remember, winter weather is my nemesis — or at least one of them, ranking right up there with crazy drivers. So you can imagine my surprise when I saw an article promoting the benefits of cold weather. While I wasn’t sure such a crazy claim was possible, I felt the need to investigate — to take issue with these outlandish claims in an unbiased fashion, of course.

I suppose it would be one thing to offer a few token advantages of the cold, but this particular article outlined seven perks, which immediately triggered my stink eye. Sounds like an oversell if you ask me. But you didn’t. So let’s jump right into these perks.

• Calorie killer. When hiking in 14- to 23- degree weather, you’re likely to burn 34 percent more calories than in 50-degree weather, at least those were the findings in a study of 53 people. First off, who among us willingly goes outside, much less hiking, in that kind of weather? Well, besides Santa and his elves. Thanks but no. I’ll take my chances on the treadmill.

• Fat activator. Apparently, we have good fat and bad fat. And I’m not talking about avocados. Not to be confused with run-of-the-mill white fat, brown fat can boost our metabolisms. Interestingly, we only have a small amount of this so-called good fat. Not only can it be activated by going outside in cold weather, but it can also be activated by something as simple as sticking your foot in cold water. Note to my brown fat cells: you’re on your own. Can someone bring me an avocado?

• Allergy ender. Ok, I’ll give you this one. But here’s the rub. This applies only to outdoor allergens. It’s a different story on the inside, where dust and mold allergies can kick into high gear. The best way to deal with those indoor allergies? Keep humidity levels below 50 percent — which I’d like to point out is a sure-fire way to make your home seem colder than it really is.

• Sleep stimulant. Our body temperature drops while we sleep, which is supposedly a good thing — and something that takes happens quicker in the winter. Try telling that to the gal wearing sleep socks and Cuddl-Duds while curled up under a weighted blanket.

• Infection fighter. This one’s a double-edged sword. While our immune systems are bolstered by the cold, so too are flu cooties. Who could’ve seen that coming? Bad germs enjoying the cold weather? But I digress. According to researchers, the only ways to combat this are to get a flu shot (check), wash our hands (check), and —wait for it — go outside more. I smell a rat.

• Heart help. When we’re physically active outside in the winter, our hearts work harder to maintain core body temperature and pump all that blood. Did you know about 100 people die while shoveling snow each winter? I’m just sayin’. That’s something to consider.

• Brain Booster. Finally, the last of our seven health benefits. Of all the advantages of cold weather, this one makes the most sense to me. Because when I’m cold, my brain goes into overdrive conjuring up ways to stay warm and counting the days until spring.

I’m cold just thinking about it. What’s more, winter won’t officially arrive for more than a month — enough time to book that trip to Florida. It’s the Sunshine State, you know. Which reminds me. Did I tell you about the article I read on the 15 benefits of sunshine?

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Beth Underwood is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines. She shares stories of everyday life that entertain, inspire, and encourage others. Her books include Gravity, a narrative nonfiction account of a small group of Tennessee National Guardsmen, and Talk Bourbon to Me, a lighthearted look at Kentucky’s native spirit. Drop her a line at beth@bethwrightunderwood.com, or visit her website at bethwrightunderwood.com.

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