Did your mother tell you “Don’t leave without a hat, you’ll catch a chill”?
We love ya, ma. But you had it all wrong.
Here are four winter health myths debunked.
“You’re more likely to get sick in the in the winter.”
MYTH: The New York Times published an exhaustive round-up of experiments that tried to link feeling cold with catching cold. Bottom line?
“Chilling had no effect on the chances of catching a cold or the severity of colds caught.” The whole don’t-go-outside-with-wet-hair mantra is officially debunked.
Actually, it’s not the cold weather that weakens immune defense, it’s the lack of humidity. Discovery Health reports, “Cold winter air can dry out the mucus lining of your nasal passages, making it easier for viruses to get in and make you sick.” Get your Blistex on, son.
“Alcohol warms you up.”
MYTH: Despite how warm a Hot Toddy feels going down, the relief is fleeting. Alcohol actually increases heat loss. Normally, Harvard Health explains, the skin’s surface network of capillaries constricts, shunting blood to the interior.
“That response adds to the insulating power of the skin because there’s less heat lost from circulation near the surface.” However, when you drink, alcohol causes the blood vessels to dilate, causing increased heat loss across the surface of the skin.
“Fat is a good insulator.”
MAYBE: That winter spare tire? Not insulating at all. Nice try, positive thinker. However, your body also has heat-producing brown fat cells which, unlike white fat, keep your metabolic furnace burning bright.
As we learned in the Cold Thermogenesis debate, lean people tend to have more brown fat than overweight people. And when brown fat is stimulated it can raise internal temperature (and metabolism).
To stave off those white fat cells, lay off the Velveeta – try the Factor Mac & Cheese instead.
“Shivering burns more calories.”
TRUTH: The rapid, rhythmic muscle contractions produce more heat, helping the body temperature to rise. As cold increases, the body recruits more muscles, so shivering can get intense. Although it’s very uncomfortable, the muscle activity definitely burns more calories than when the body is at rest.
So, lesson learned? You can forget your hat, ditch the flask, and keep on shivering. Here’s to making the last weeks of winter count!
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