Not all of us live in the eternal sunny warmth of California. It’s October and most of the country has experienced either their first freeze or first snowstorm. While these plummeting temperatures may send you running indoors, the winter may be one of the best times to get outside and get active. Recent studies have begun to look at how cold temperatures affect processes in the body with some surprising health benefits!

How the Body Counteracts Cold Temperatures

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Have you ever noticed that your ears, nose, fingertips, and toes are the first to start feeling cold when you’re exposed to colder temperatures?

The human body is a machine meant for survival. When it comes to protection, your body will sacrifice non-essential for essential. If you happen to be trapped outdoors in severe weather, your body will transfer heat from external extremities — such as your hands, feet, and face — and will draw that inwards to protect your bodily organs. More specifically, the body will protect “vital organs such as the heart, kidneys, and lungs.” Depending on your health and the length of time you’re outside, freezing temperatures may also slow your metabolism, drop your core body temperature, and cause frostbite to exposed skin.

When the temperature falls below 50 degrees you may also experience vasoconstriction — narrowing of blood vessels in order to slow the flow to the surface oftentimes causing flushing — cold-induced rhinorrhea — overcompensating of moisture within the nose causing a running nose — and oscillatory muscular activity — shivering caused by your body temperature drop.

Yet, these bodily experiences are generally effects of extremely cold weather snaps. While “little is really known about how much cold is too much cold”, researchers are currently investigating the sweet spot in-between, where it’s cold enough for the human body to recognize a change, yet warm enough to stave of dangers. When the human body is allowed to feel cold some surprising health benefits take place.

Health Benefits of Cold Weather

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While cold temperatures can be dangerous, it also has the potential to offer great health benefits. Here are a few ways the body benefits from that cold winter weather!

Increased Fat Burn

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The human body needs fat as a form of temperature control, especially when it comes to keeping us warm in cold temperatures. We are protected by both white fat, “the largest energy reserve in the body”, and brown fat, which “burns calories generate heat.” Yet, when it comes to burning more fat in cold weather, it’s all about the brown fat and a hormone called irisin. These two compounds are “involved in energy expenditure and are activated by involuntary muscle contractions” such as shivering. Pair that with actual heart-pounding exercise such as biking, running, walking, or even weight lifting and you begin to start burning more brown fat.

Faster Muscle Recovery

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In a study performed by the National Institute of Sport, Exercise, and Performance, a small group of seasoned runners performed “three sets of a simulated trail run designed to induce muscle damage over the course of three weeks.” The study looked at three different approaches to recovery: cryotherapy, a treatment that uses freezing or near-freezing temperatures, heat therapy, a treatment that uses hot temperatures, and simply rest and relaxation. Which therapy came out on top? Cryotherapy. Those participants “exposed to temperatures as cold as -166 Fahrenheit” had the best recovery and gained their maximum muscle strength quicker than other therapies.  

Better Sleep

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Body temperature plays an important role in healthy sleep. Per the National Sleep Foundation, “studies indicate that some forms of insomnia are associated with an improper regulation in body temperature.” This is due to the fact that as you grow tired, your body’s core temperature naturally begins to grow cooler. Therefore, during the cooler winter months when your home’s indoor temperature is naturally cooler, you may also get a better night’s sleep!

Avoid Seasonal Affective Disorder

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You may have heard the simple acronym SAD, yet Seasonal Affective Disorder, a depression spurred by overcast skies, shortened days, and cold weather, is a legitimate psychological condition. Yet, there are many ways to combPreview (opens in a new window)at SAD, one of which happens to be getting out into that cold weather. We all know that exercise, no matter the temperature outside, is already mood-boosting, but due to the sun’s naturally enlivening rays and the “endorphin-high of exercise” which, put together, can “trick your body into believing spring is already here.”

Cold Recipes to Keep You Healthy

Chilled Cucumber Soup/One Green Planet

Whether your gearing up to head into the cold or if you’re cooling your body down after returning from a snowy run, cold weather foods are a great way to help your body adjust back to internal temperatures. Here are a few recipes that provide other great health benefits along with helping your body regulate temperatures!

Soup

Raw Carrot Avocado Soup/One Green Planet

After a good long winter run, you may dream of a warm shower, but how about a cold bowl of soup? Even though your exterior may be frosty cold, the inside of your body may still be hot. Soup is not only easy to prep, cook, and freeze, but it’s also incredibly tasty and the ingredients can be diversified. Try out this Raw Carrot Avocado Soup, Zucchini Gazpacho, Sweet Corn Soup, or this Raw Green Pea Soup.

Frozen Treats

Lavender Coconut Ice Cream/One Green Planet

Sweet frozen desserts are truly the crème de la crème. They can be prepped in bulk and stored for weeks. They take much longer to eat and therefore you enjoy your treat for much longer. Plus, if you make your own frozen treats you can pour nutritionally rich, raw ingredients that will hold up over time such as this Raw Mango Banana Soft Serve Ice Cream, Lavender Coconut Ice Cream, Mocha Pops, Frozen Mini Mojito Tart, or Raw Fruit and Coconut Ice Cream Cake.

Smoothies

Energizing Coffee Cacao Smoothie Bowl/One Green Planet

Great for breakfast, great for lunch, great for a little after workout meal. Smoothies share many of the same benefits of both cold soup and frozen desserts including large ingredient diversity, ease in prepping, and you can store a few for the week in your freezer. Here are a few smoothies to get you started: Blue Banana Smoothie, Beautiful Berry Coconut Smoothie Bowls, Energizing Coffee Cacao Smoothie Bowl, or this Winter Citrus Smoothie.

Be Smart and Be Prepared!

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With that said, be smart about your outdoor activities. Make sure to check temperatures and adjust your clothing accordingly before going outside. If your venturing into snow or ice, make sure you have appropriate footwear. For those extremists that love a good snow or rain run, look into waterproof clothes that won’t absorb wet weather, but will instead repel.

For a host of more cold weather cold recipes, we highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for both Android and iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 10,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!

Lead Image: StockSnap/Pixabay