We are the lucky “Algarveans” that have been having a most extraordinary sunny winter.

This week, when all the news were talking about cold and ice everywhere in Europe, I have seen people at the beach, lying on a towel and even bathing …

Crazy? May be not!  The sunshine has been strong during the middle hours of the day, the wind very mild, so why not profit?

We have talked at the beginning of the winter about disease risks associated with cold. 

There are different ideas and perceptions of cold, but… is cold always bad or can it be good for us? We look at the effects of cold weather particularly the effects on health and how the human body responds to low temperatures and the effects of winter. Some effects are as you might expect, others are really surprising!

Health can be affected for good or ill depending on your response to the different aspects of winter, mostly due to the way you deal with the cold.

Strange as it might look there are health benefits of cold weather that should be considered.

Globally speaking, several dangerous disease-carrying organisms disappear when the temperature drops. It does not need to be extreme cold that has the effect, even relatively mild winters limit the range of the kind of organisms that spread diseases such as malaria, sleeping sickness and bilharzia three of the world’s commonest, deadliest and most debilitating diseases.

In our sunny Algarve we do not have to worry about these but it is great not to have mosquitoes buzzing around as disease-carrying bugs like mosquitos and ticks thrive in milder climates and freeze to death in the cold.

We might have less pollen as well … not really guaranteed with the sunshine we have been having!

Are we cold just because we feel cold? 

It seems perception is almost all. How cold we feel and how cold we are, are not as closely related as we may imagine. While uncontrollable shivering is under the influence of your subconscious and indicates a fall in the core temperature, the feeling of cold is not a great indicator. Some people are able to tolerate the cold more than others, largely on the basis of perceiving exactly the same sensations in a different way. You can train yourself to be less affected by the cold.

On the other hand, as people get older, they can become less perceptive to cold temperatures, another reason the elderly are more prone to becoming hypothermic.

Feeling cold all the time is a common symptom of a number of medical conditions such as:

  • Anemia – when the blood does not have enough healthy red blood and hemoglobin to carry the oxygen
  • Hypothyroidism – low thyroid function
  • Raynaud’s disease – a situation where arteries in the hands and feet do not supply adequate blood flow to the fingers and toes, which go pale and numb.
  • Diabetes – one symptom of the kidney damage resulting from diabetes is a feeling of being cold all the time.
  • Anorexia – people with this eating disorder often feel cold all the time as the body tries to make any nutrition last as long as possible by generating less heat.

A constant feeling of being cold can be a sign of a more serious medical condition, so if you really cannot ever get warm, even in a warm place or long after coming in from the cold, contact your doctor. 

Health benefits of cold weather

Contrary to popular belief, health experts say that there are plenty of advantages the cold provides for our bodies and minds.

It seems that you should not complain too much when the weather gets frigid… it is only temporary and an interval of frigid temperatures can actually be good for your health… in some aspects!

Experts say that walking in the cold will increase the body energy for hours afterwards and you are more likely to burn calories faster, breathe fresher air, think clearer.

It is also good for sleeping, as a slightly cool bedroom is optimal for sleep. So keep the thermostat down and save money on energy bills…

Not to forget that warm temperatures adversely affect our decision-making abilities and that many athletes for quick post-workout recovery for sore muscles use the anti-inflammatory effect of cold, in cryotherapy.

One more detail is that in the cold weather we do not have to worry about how good we look in our bikini! It gives a good, strong, irrational wellbeing that should not make anyone forget about the usual, routine, New Year resolution of eating better, exercising and all the rest that comes with it, in order to be healthier.

Or… should I say… in order to look better in a bikini when the warm weather arrives?

Best health wishes,

Dr. Maria Alice

Consultant in General and Family Medicine

General Manager/Medical Director – Luzdoc International Medical Service / Medilagos

Medical Director – Grupo Hospital Particular do Algarve

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