Why being cold has brrrr-illiant health benefits!

— by Adrienne Wyper

Photos: Madewell


It might be hard to believe if you’re standing outside shivering this winter, but cold brings many health benefits for your mind and body. When it’s unexpected and I’m under-dressed, being cold when waiting for buses or queueing for coffee, for example, makes me feel pathetic, upset and neglected, like a Victorian orphan, but the exposure to low temperatures we’re talking about here is controlled and voluntary. Think how a brisk walk outside on a bracing day ‘whips up some roses’ in your cheeks and makes you feel revitalised. If you’re into cold-water swimming, you’ll already be familiar with that life-affirming, invigorating glow after a session. (If you’d like to try cold-water swimming, see advice from the Outdoor Swimming Society here).

We’re all set to spend more time outdoors this winter, so if you need more motivation for why it’s cool to be cool, here’s what low temperatures can do for you…

(Please be sensible: we’re not suggesting you emulate the antics of ‘ice man’ Wim Hof, just to see the positive side of the cold snap).


Sleep better

Our body temperature naturally drops when we’re asleep, to its lowest at around 5am, and a cool room helps us to fall asleep faster, with less chance of triggering a hot flush. (Remember how hard it was to fall asleep in last summer’s heatwave?) Ideally, your bedroom should be between 16 and 19°C. I’ve always loved the cosy comfort of a hot-water bottle, but it often gets kicked out of bed when I’m unconscious.

Our natural cooling towards bedtime facilitates the release of the sleep hormone melatonin, which is key for restful sleep.


Boost your appetite – and burn calories

Plenty of us may feel like our appetites are quite large enough at the moment – sales of junk food and booze have risen during the pandemic – but unhealthy coronavirus-related consumption has to be offset against more cooking from scratch using fresh ingredients. (Having said that, in the first lockdown I baked delicious oat biscuits from a Mary Berry recipe… then ate the lot while staring open-mouthed at the news.) In winter, a lower body temperature stimulates appetite, basically in order to take in more calories to fuel keeping warm enough.

However, being moderately cold can turn ‘bad’ white fat in our bodies to ‘good’ brown fat, aka Brown Adipose Tissue, which burns to keep us warm. We’re born with some brown fat, but by adulthood it’s diminished. Brown fat also absorbs excess blood glucose, which can improve insulin sensitivity. Should you be cold enough to shiver for 15 minutes (beware Victorian Orphan Syndrome – see above), this apparently has the same fat-burning effect as an hour’s exercise.

Winter exercising outdoors burns more calories because the body has to expend more energy to keep you warm.


Think more clearly

That fuzzy-headed feeling of being unable to concentrate, brought on by background anxiety caused by the pandemic, is not exactly conducive to WFH. Research has shown that people perform tasks such as decision-making better in a cooler temperature. So that brisk walk to ‘clear your head’ to refocus on the task in hand really can work at this time of year.


Ease pain and soothe sore muscles

You’ve probably shuddered at sportspeople taking ice baths. The reason they do it is to promote healing of tiny muscle tears, and reduce inflammation by reducing blood flow and swelling. An excellent way to ‘ice’ sore muscles and new injuries was recommended to me by a physiotherapist I consulted during my footballing days: take a paper cup, fill it with water and freeze it, then pick off the edges to leave the ice protruding. Massage the sore area with this, keeping it moving, until the area is cold to the touch, then put the ice cup back in the freezer to reuse when needed. (I had one on the go for years.)


And if you’re venturing out in the cold, you can, of course, look forward to being back indoors, wrapped up warmly, with a blanket and a hot drink. We also recommend investing in a Duvet Coat and some stompy boots!


Adrienne Wyper is a health and lifestyle writer and regular TNMA contributor. 



Photos are from Madewell.

In the first photo the model is wearing the Striped Ballard Sweater Coat, available HERE. Over the Crepe Puff-Sleeve Seamed top, available HERE. Stovepipe jeans, available HERE and Ivy Chelsea Boots, available HERE.

In the second photo the model is wearing the Larsen Blazer, available HERE.

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