What happens to your body when it’s cold outside

The cold chill of winter can trigger unexpected mental and physical side effects.

Although Australia’s winter is nothing compared to other countries, we still feel the cold. Our winter may not be extreme, but its effects can trip up our physical and mental wellbeing. According to Dr. Albert Ahn, by being aware and responding proactively to these changes, you can stay healthy all season long.

Increase in calorie burning

Our bodies are always burning calories, even when we aren’t moving or doing excessive activities. This is your basal metabolic rate. The burn rate of these calories increases during colder temperatures. This increase is because your body needs to work more to stay warm.

Although it isn’t a significant enough increase for you to notice a difference, don’t rely on it for your weight loss regime.

Shrinking limbs

During the colder months, you may realise the rings on your fingers feel a little looser than normal. You aren’t wrong in thinking your fingers have shrunk. Extremities, such as your fingers and toes often swell in hotter climates and shrink in winter climates. Cold weather forces the body to constrict the blood vessels to help preserve body heat to maintain your core body temperature.

This also helps explain why you may feel more pain in your extremities. This makes part of your body feel numb and cold as a response to cold climates or stress. The pain is often felt in the hands, feet, and ears. Don’t alarm yourself as your body’s reaction is not dangerous. However, it can be uncomfortable and a little painful.

You can help prevent this by wearing sufficient winter clothing and avoiding prolonged periods outside in the cold.

Effect on your vision

Exposing your eyes to excessively cold temperatures, such as cold wind and snow may affect your vision. Additionally, the sunlight bouncing off snow piles can cause a cornea injury or burn. To protect your eyesight wear proper eyewear when playing snow sports as well as wearing sunglasses when possible.

Reddened face

After spending time outside your nose and cheeks can resemble a new shade of red. This is a result of the blood in those areas being redirected to more vital areas of your body, including the heart and lungs.

Once you warm up again, the shade of red will soon disappear as the blood returns to its normal locations.

Heart attack risk

It is possible for older adults to be more at risk of experiencing a heart attack during the colder months. This will be more prevalent for those with cardiac issues, however, Dr. Albert Ahn believes everyone should keep this in mind.

When the body is facing exertion it forces the heart to work harder by pumping more blood to extremities. This leads to a marginal increase in blood pressure. Although this is unlikely to be a concern for our Queensland winter.

Drop in mood

Ahn confirms what we all suspect, the winter blues are real. The decrease in sunlight hours can lead to a dip in mood due to a decrease in vitamin D. The effects can range from mild to severe. To give yourself the best odds at staying happy and positive this winter, spend as much time as possible in the sun, or exercising. Ahn also says to check in with your doctor if you feel like your mood is severely impacted and interfering with your everyday life.

For more tips on how to overcome the effects of the cold by reading how you can avoid the winter blues.