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The snow may have melted but the “Beast of the East” is still making itself felt. And we’re not talking about yet more potholes on the roads (!), a few dented cars or some local shops playing catch up after the snow disrupted their supplies. Or the floods that so often follow heavy snow. 
 
Instead we’re thinking about things from a much more personal level and how the cold weather affects each of us, albeit to varying degrees (no pun intended!). And, much more importantly, how it continues to do so for a while after it’s gone. 
 
If this seems a strange thing to say, bear with us, it’ll all become clear in a minute. 
 
 
Over the years, one thing we’ve noticed over and over again, is how quickly people seem to forget whatever has just happened. The old proverb, “Out of sight, out of mind” sums up this tendency perfectly. The prevailing logic seems to go along the lines of once whatever it is has finished – and so is out of sight – then it ceases to have any effect on us. 
 
In many ways this is an admirable trait. Unfortunately, it also means that we don’t give ourselves sufficient time to recover from one thing before moving on to the next. A classic example of this is the need for a little convalescence time after any acute illness, such as Flu or a stonking Cold, rather than dashing straight back to work as soon as we’re back on our feet again. 
 
And, now we’ve pointed this out, we’re sure you can think of plenty of other things this also applies to (!). Today we’re going to focus on one that isn’t so obvious, the toll taken on our bodies by a cold snap, in this case the wonderfully named “Beast from the East.” (Apologies, we just couldn’t resist saying the name again, it’s such a typically tabloid response to extreme weather!). 
 
Anyway, before we digress any further, for a moment let’s think about the winter and how much harder our bodies have to work during the colder weather. Let alone a cold snap. 
 
One of the first and most obvious responses to the cold – whether air or water – is to reduce the amount of blood flowing to the skin’s surface. The skin becomes paler with the hands, feet and nose feeling colder than normal. This simple heat conservation measure means that less heat is lost from the surface of the skin; while blood is concentrated in the body’s core to protect the vital organs and brain. 
 
As an aside, this is the reason for two common complaints about any colder weather. The first, is the tendency to go to the loo more often. Rather than being due to the cold, it’s due to a slight rise in blood pressure as the blood is redirected to the body core. This, in turn, increases the production of urine in the Kidneys. And, hence, leads to more trips to the loo. Another mystery solved! 
 
The second is muscle and bone aches. Again, the usual assumption is that it’s due to the cold but, rather, is another sign of the blood being shunted away from the surface and deeper into the core. The cold also makes the synovial fluid, which lubricates the joints, thicker and so reduces the joint’s mobility. It’s no coincidence that those with Arthritis have an increase of symptoms in the winter and can often tell when colder weather is coming. 
 
Having pulled blood into the core, the body starts to burn brown fat to generate heat and so raise the body temperature. Unlike white fat – which provides a layer or insulation as well as protecting the vital organs – brown fat exists in small amounts specifically to produce heat in colder weather. As part of this process, the liver also increases its other activities which also generates additional body heat. 
 
If necessary, this process can be supplemented by shivering, where the muscles in the surface of the skin relax and contract to help generate heat. At the same time, a layer of – relatively – warmer air can be trapped round the body by goose bumps. These make the body hair stand more upright than usual, so reducing heat loss from the surface of the skin. 
 
One thing you may not have thought about – but can be really annoying – is that runny nose which often seems to accompany colder weather. Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t mean that you’re succumbing to one of the winter bugs. Cold air tends to be drier and, before it goes to the lungs, needs to be warmed up and moisturised. And this is exactly what happens, hence that annoying runny nose as mucus production goes into overdrive. 
 
With all of this extra work going on inside the body – let alone that from coping with the practicalities of day to day life in cold weather – it’s not surprising that our overall energy levels fall. We feel more lethargic than usual and find routine tasks more tiring. This is exacerbated by changes in melatonin and serotonin levels within the brain, which make us feel less alert and sluggish. 
 
Alongside all of this, the Immune System works less efficiently in colder weather. This is partly due to it being very sensitive to any reduction in the core body temperature and so takes longer to detect pathogens before initiating an immune response. Colds, Flu and other winter bugs take advantage of this by being at their most virulent in cooler temperatures. This is why it can seem to take longer to get over acute illnesses in very cold weather. It’s also the reason for a raised body temperature – or fever – being one of the body’s first line defences against them. 
 
Now you’ve stopped to think about it – probably for the first time (!) – it’s not surprising that a cold snap can leave us feeling so drained and tired. And that’s if it only lasts a few days. 
 
Which takes us back to the need for us to give ourselves – and our bodies – a little time to recharge the batteries after a cold snap. Time is also needed for the body to catch up on all the routine housekeeping tasks that were deferred, as energy was conserved and focussed on keeping us warm. 
 
And here’s another good reason for suggesting this. One we mentioned a moment ago. That’s to give our Immune System a little extra support while it brings our defences back to normal. After all, who wants to follow a cold snap with a stonking Cold? 
 
All too often we take this wonderful body of ours for granted. Complaining when it goes “wrong” but forgetting it needs to be looked after as well. 
 
So, now the cold snap is over, isn’t it time to give your body a little tlc? Some rest and relaxation. The wholefood it really needs to function efficiently. Leaving aside the comfort food everyone falls back on in freezing temperatures (!). Upping your water, which all too often gets forgotten in the colder weather. And not forgetting all the other things we talk about all too often in this blog.  
 
You’ll feel much better for it and your body will thank you no end. 
 
As always, the choice is yours. 
Tagged as: Diet, Health, Lifestyle
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