Christy Lynn: in praise of cold weather

I love cold weather. Maybe it’s because I was born in January, or maybe it’s the part of me that kind of likes it when things are a little hard, but either way, it makes me feel alive.
I admit that there are times when it’s hard to leave a cozy perch with a blanket on the couch in pursuit of a venture outside when temperatures are in the single digits and the wind is whipping through the trees.
Enter Trudy, my energetic border collie, who provides the nudge to get me in motion on even the coldest days.
She’s usually right. Once I’m out in that chilly air and my quads get that tingle as they brush my cold pant legs and my crispy nose hairs once again remind me of their presence, I feel instantly more alert.
Cold air motivates the body immediately, triggering the circulatory system to ramp up and meet the challenge. Researchers at Harvard Medical School suggest that exposure to moderately cold temperatures could be good for the vasculature, as it trains blood vessels in the skin to be more responsive.
While each person’s physical response to cold weather varies slightly and, of course, depends on length and severity of exposure, for most it kicks the sensory systems into gear and signals for the body to get into action.
Typically, when people encounter cold air or water, their blood vessels that flow closest to the surface of the skin constrict so that blood can be concentrated in the core of the body, where it is most critical to maintain a high temperature.
This is what explains why your fingers and toes are the first things to get cold when you’re out in freezing temperatures.
That said, cold weather is also proven to increase circulation in the body and activate calorie-burning and heat-producing brown fat in the body. Babies are born with a high percentage of brown fat in their bodies, but much of that disappears with age and is replaced by white fat (the pesky kind that stores calories and collects at the gut, thighs and other not-so-attractive places).
Brown fat, by contrast, expends energy in the form of heat, which explains why it is naturally activated in cooler weather, according to researchers at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston.
While evidence is still minimal and most doctors aren’t exactly suggesting cold weather as the next fad diet, it might help explain practices in some parts of the world (Japan, Finland and Russia to name a few) that embrace exposure to extreme cold in exchange for supposed health benefits.
According to a Finnish research study, people who participated in regular winter plunges into cold water experienced significant increases in their norepinephrine levels, a stress hormone in the nervous system responsible for vigilant concentration and pain suppression.
Norepinephrine also plays a significant role as a neurotransmitter released from sympathetic neurons to affect the heart; an increase in norepinephrine levels increases the rate of contractions in the heart.
Particularly in elderly people, increased heart rate and blood pressure can result from cold temperatures, which trigger the release of norepinephrine, explaining why there are an increased number of heart attacks and other cardiovascular troubles in the winter when our bodies (and hearts) are working harder.
Of course, Trudy doesn’t know any of this.
What Trudy knows is that zooming through the forest is better than sitting on the couch, regardless of whether it’s 75 degrees and sunny, 39 and raining, or 14 below.
It’s possible that my dog also appreciates the sparkle of a snowy field on a sunny day or the quiet that falls over the forest with softly falling flakes.
But more than likely those subtleties are lost on Trudy. At the most (and because I like to think that she’s a pooch with above-average intelligence), she knows that if I’m inexplicably grumpy and cooped up at my desk or lazing on the couch, the medicine I really need is a good walk in the woods. That sharp, cold blast of reality always — always — changes my mood for the better. 

Share this story:

More News
News Uncategorized

Fresh Air Fund youths returning to county

The Fresh Air Fund, initiated in 1877 to give kids from New York City the opportunity to e … (read more)

Obituaries Uncategorized

Mark A. Nelson of Bristol

BRISTOL — A memorial service for Mark A. Nelson of Bristol will be held 1 p.m. on Saturday … (read more)

Sports Uncategorized

High school athletes ready for fall playoffs this week

See when your favorite high school team is competing in the fall sports playoffs.

Share this story: