Hello cold, we missed you. Actually, no we didn't, but regardless, the cold has arrived in Montreal, with today being the first time this winter we've experienced the face-biting temperatures of -15°C and below.
No doubt your first instinct is to hole up with the heat blasted to high, wrap yourself in a fuzzy blanket, grab a steaming cup of tea to warm your innards, and generally avoid the cold entirely.
But you may be missing out on some serious health benefits if you hide from the cold. Both brief and long-term exposure to cold temperatures can actually provide some definite health benefits, from weight loss to increased mental performance.
Discover what the cold weather has to offer your body and mind in the list of health benefits below.
The Cold Makes You Burn More Calories
Go and stand outside right now, and you'll expend a lot more energy than you would just being in the warm indoors. No movement necessary, the cold simply forces your body to use up more calories as your body works its booty off to keep your warm, a process known as thermogenesis.
Certain credible individuals swear by the calorie-burning effects of the cold, most notable Ray Cronise, a former NASA scientist turned exposure-to-cold-expert.
Cronise believes that simple exposure to the cold will boost one's metabolism, and has seen the effects for himself. In the span of six weeks, Cronies was able to lose a whopping 27 pounds by employing "feel the cold strategies" including opening the window to cold air and by taking short "shiver walks."
Concrete evidence on just how much the cold can increase one's metabolic rate has yet to arise (some studies have documented anywhere from an 8 to 80 percent increase), and will likely differ per person, as Cronise himself experienced a 22.5% increase in the amount of calories his body burned.
Still, Cronise thinks the cold could be the speedy route out of obesity for humanity. So if you're taking a short walk to work through the intense cold this winter, feel better knowing you're probably burning some extra calories.
The Cold Burns Fat
And I don't just mean in the "calories burned means fat burned" roundabout way. Exposure to cold weather directly stimulates the burning of fat in the human body, specifically brown adipose tissue (BAT), otherwise known as "brown fat."
Referred to as baby fat (perhaps only by myself), brown fat is abundant in newborns and small animals since it helps the body stay warm. There is, however, a fair amount of brown fat in adults, and it kicks into gear and keeps you warm anytime you hit the cold.
With that in mind, its clear to see how the cold can help you remove this type of fat. Simply by exposing yourself to cooler temperatures, brown adipose cells burn themselves off to produce heat, as evidenced by recent studies.
The mechanics of the relationship between brown fat and one's overall fat content and metabolic rate has yet to be revealed, but either way, feel good in the cold knowing it's helping you lose a specific kind of fat you've had since you were an infant.
The Cold Boosts Your Immune System
Not only does the extreme cold lower your risk of catching a pesky illness, given that bacteria isn't quite as mobile in such temperatures and sickness-carrying bugs aren't in abundance, but the cold can also improve the functioning of your immune system.
Delving into the immune changes experienced in the human body after being exposed to cold temperatures, researchers found "an increase in natural killer cell count and activity" in participants.
Basically, all those who were sent into cold temperatures saw a direct increase in their immune system cell count, thus making their bodies better equipped to stave off any illness.
The Cold Makes You Happy And Fights Depression
This definitely seems a bit counterintuitive, since we've all went through the winter blues created by low temperatures, snow, and long nights. But when considering the effects of the cold on your mood, you might be surprised to hear that a bitter chill can actually make you happier.
In a study analyzing the relationship between cold exposure and depression, the cold was actually found to stave off bad thoughts and feeling.
How? According to researchers, getting a blast of cold (over about a 2-5 minute period) will activate one's sympathetic nervous system, thus stimulating the release of endorphins (pain-relieving juices), while also sending a larger number of "electrical impulses from peripheral nerve endings to the brain" which is hypothesized to fight depression.
The Cold Aids In Workout Recovery
If you're sore from an injury, you throw an ice pack on it, right? Extrapolate the method (using cold to reduce soreness) to your whole body and you can see how the cold weather can help you recover from your workout.
Focusing in on the benefits of dumping yourself into a pool of extremely cold water, a practice that's common in some cultures, a team of researchers found that the full-body cold exposure was a potentially "effective way to reduce muscle soreness." The Harvard Health Letter posits the same.
Somewhat fortunately, here in Montreal, we don't need to go jump into an ice bath to chill out our muscles after leg day at the gym. A short walk outside (especially when it's below -10°C) can pretty much do the same thing.
The Cold Helps You Study
Not only does your body benefit from some cold-exposure, but so does your brain, as evidenced in a now-classic study enacted in England where the mental performance of 23 high school classes was measured in relation to temperature.
Across the board, students were found to perform worse when their environment was warm and comfortable, while doing much better when the classroom temperature was set somewhat below comfortable (read: a bit cold). A study from the Harvard Business School concluded the same results.
In essence, a colder environment will help you focus better, a solid reason to turn down the heat if you want to be really productive.
Or, if you're in an office like mine with a heating system that can't compensate for the -19°C temperature outside, find solace in the fact that your brain is probably functioning better.
And Will Make You Want To Study
Maybe even more useful to students/people who need their brain for work than the brain-boosting effects of the cold is how the lower weather temperatures will actually make you want to work.
As found in the cleverly titled study "Weather to Go To College," cold/poor weather showcased to prompt the desire to study in students. Conversely, sunny and warm days were shown to be detrimental to one's study habits, as students were more likely to take the day off to enjoy the good weather.
The Cold Boosts Your Social Health
The amount of friends you have doesn't mean much, rather it's the quality of your friends and how close you are to them that really makes the difference. And the cold actually helps with that.
Analyzing the calling habits of 1.3 million mobile phone users, an England-based study found that during moments of "uncomfortable weather" (including extreme cold), people made less outgoing calls but spoke longer with those they actually did contact.
While winter inhibits one's ability to be a social butterfly (heading to da club in -20°C ain't cute) it does bring you closer to your close friends and family, the folks who matter most.
The Cold Makes You Gain More From The Heat
Everyone knows that part of the reason why Montreal is so amazing in the summer is because it's so awful in the winter; after being cooped up for months, the city can't help but go wild when the warm weather hits. And it's not just us, it's a scientifically documented phenomenon.
Warm weather is a natural way too boost a person's mood, but the feel-good gains are increased by a rather large amount if an individual had to work through some super cold days before a sunny one.
In other words, a person from San Francisco won't gain much from a daytime high of 20°C in March, whereas a Montreal will instantly get a major mood boost.
Yes, we may all implicitly know this fact, but its worth reminding yourself that braving through all this cold is worth it, if not for the health benefits, than solely for how it makes summer that much more amazing.