We’ve all been there. Maybe you were wearing a light layer, something hastlefree that would keep you at least lukewarm outdoors without being burdensome. You shimmy towards the door, ready to take on the cold when someone, anyone, your parent, grandparent, partner, roommate or even kid, cuts in — “Wear a coat! You’ll catch a cold.”
If not the recipient of such a comment, you are undoubtedly the giver of one. That is unless you live in a warm weather destination, in which case congratulations. Still, for those enduring the brunt of northern hemispheric winter, there are many misconceptions about the dropping temperatures, how we should dress and behave in them and how they may influence our health. Here are 16 cold weather myths debunked.
Despite this being a well-circulated claim, just 10% of your body heat is lost from your head. A University of Manitoba study found that the head, which takes up just 7-9% of your body’s surface, does not contribute relatively more than the rest of the body to total body surface heat loss. However, keep that 7-9% warm when bundled up and wear a hat.
Adding another easy-to-carry layer to your no-fuss cardigan will not grant you immunity from the cold. Properly layering is a science. When done wrong, it will be ineffective. You will end up either too cold or too warm, stuck shivering or sweating. To properly layer, start with a thin, form-fitting item that can trap your body heat. Then add increasingly thick layers, focusing on retaining heat in your core. Mountain Warehouse recommends a microfleece or other thin insulated jacket as a second layer and a snow-, wind- and rain-resistant outer layer to top off the look. If layering is too much work, opt for one well-made coat. If properly made, it might be as effective as three layers.
Dying minutes after falling through ice into chilly waters has much more to do with drowning than hypothermia. Physiologist Gordon Giesbrecht, Ph.D., told the National Forest Foundation that it takes 30 minutes for hypothermia to become “a problem.” Giesbrecht recommends people use the first minute underwater to calm themselves, then the next 10 trying to get out of the water. By 11 minutes, the cold inhibits an individual’s ability to move, Giesbrecht said. So, relax as best you can and float. The body could remain conscious up to an hour under those conditions.
Best keep the coffee and adult beverages for home, when you’re cozied up near the fireplace or the candle you light to create the feeling of being near a fireplace. According to the National Weather Service, caffeine constricts your blood vessels, which prevents warmth from reaching your extremities. Alcohol dilates your blood vessels, causing a momentary flush of warmth just to be followed by a drop in body temperature and increased heat loss from your skin. Alcohol may also lower your inclination to shiver, one of the body’s instinctual defenses against the cold.
Going outside without a hat will not cause an ear infection. No amount of wind or cold can conjure up a virus in your ear. Ear infections form behind the eardrum, past the point where your ear is exposed to the cold or wind. An ear infection may be a common cold complication, but alas the winter weather did not cause that either.
There are over a billion colds in the U.S. every year. Kids infect other kids who infect their parents and teachers who infect other parents and teachers who infect other non-parents and non-teachers. A common cold is a virus. It spreads through the air an infected person releases and the contaminated surfaces they touch, not frigid temperatures. That’s just one of many cold and flu myths.
Wearing sunscreen is just one way to protect your skin during harsh winters. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, UVB rays — the leading cause of sunburn — shine brightest in the summer. However, they are capable of damaging skin year-round, especially at high altitudes. Not to mention, snow reflects 80% of the sun’s UV light, doubling the exposure and potential harm. Make applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher a part of your daily routine.
Not only will the sunlight lift your mood, but you may also take to your workout easier. With no humidity and heat, it becomes extremely important that you layer properly to avoid excess sweat and moisture. So skip anything cotton. Regular exercise, for weight loss or otherwise, is also known to boost your immune system, a useful side-effect during the cold and flu season.
Remember, the common cold and the flu are viruses. They spread through the air and contaminated surfaces, not the cold. However, if exposed to cold air, wet hair can experience breakage.
Unlike birds or your retired neighbors, allergies do not migrate to warmer climates for the winter. Although sufferers of outdoor allergies like weed pollen might experience a reprieve, indoor allergens are on the rise. If you are experiencing allergy symptoms similar to spring or summer allergies, dust mites, some form of mold or a pet may be the culprit. More time inside means more exposure to these allergens. Manage by removing any items that cause dust mites, rid any surfaces of unnoticed mold, invest in a humidifier and next time try adopting a hypoallergenic dog.
People experience cold differently. Depending on size and age, what is cold to one person may not be cold to someone directly next to them. Less fat below the skin makes retaining heat difficult and the body’s ability to control its temperature does not get better with age. Health conditions such as anemia, kidney disease or Type 2 diabetes also make one more susceptible to extreme cold. The old adage that women are often colder than men can be explained by hormonal differences and distribution of fat and muscle.
One six-year study published in 2009 found that telogen — stress-induced hair loss — rates were lowest in winter for the nearly 900 women tested. Although increased winter melatonin levels may induce seasonal affective disorder symptoms, the same hormonal change has been linked to positive changes in hair growth. However, lack of hydration will make your scalp, like all your skin, dry throughout the winter. So treat your hair with extra care to prevent damage.
Should you be stranded in your car or out in the cold when the skin on your hands suddenly goes numb, turns pale or feels waxy and hard, resist the urge to rub your hands together. Instead, tuck them into your armpits. If you suspect hypothermia, seek emergency medical attention. In more minor “frostnip” instances, get out of the cold and soak the frozen areas in warm water.
The coldest inhabitable city in the world has an average temperature of minus 58 degrees F, but it does not need to be that cold out for frostbite to quickly kick in. Risk of frostbite increases when temperatures dip below 5 degrees Fahrenheit. When temperatures reach below zero, it takes 30 minutes of exposure for skin to experience frostbite. At 15 below, it takes only 15 minutes.
Once again, the cold weather shoulders the blame for the common cold’s misdeeds. Don’t be mistaken, increased common cold cases and drier indoor air increase nose bleeds, not the cold weather. To stop a nosebleed, sit straight up and tilt your head slightly forward. Then, pinch the soft part of your nose shut using your thumb and forefinger for 10 minutes.
Light maintains humans’ circadian rhythm. So during dark winters when you’re only exposed to fluorescent office lighting, your body may not sense the usual signal to rest or rise. You will feel sleepier than usual, however your biological needs have not changed. Seven to nine hours of sleep is still recommended for adults. A lower risk of diabetes and a stronger immune system are two things that happen when your body gets enough sleep.
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