Now that the winter flu season is in full swing you may be hearing a lot of conflicting advice about how to stay healthy during the colder months. If you've ever found yourself wondering if something you hear is an old wives' tale or an actual truth, today is the day to separate fact from fiction. From alcohol to allergies, dietitian at Lifespan Medicine, Rachel Swanson, MS, RD, LDN has gotten to the bottom of this. Read on to learn more and print out this guide to take with you on the go.
1. Fluctuating weather temperatures make you sick.
Just because cold weather coincides with the cold and flu season doesn’t mean one causes the other. You only catch the flu by being infected with the influenza virus, the same way you would have to be exposed to rhinoviruses to catch a cold. It’s the fluctuation in temperature which brings about changes in our habits and our environment which are ideal for increased exposure and transmission of these germs to affect our bodies; conditions such as spending more time indoors in close quarters with others, poor ventilation, and low humidity indoors – all of which can affect the spread of germs. Overall, it’s the viruses that affect our bodies, not the weather itself.
2. Outdoor allergies don't affect you in the winter.
This is highly individualized depending on what you are allergic to. If it’s pollen, then perhaps you’ve scored a lucky break. However, your sinuses may still run rampant if you have increased susceptibility to common indoor offenders like mold spores, dust mites, or animal dander.
3. Taking vitamin C can help you beat the common cold.
Beat? Definitely not. Possibly improve duration and symptoms? Maybe. Vitamin C seems to be most helpful for those involved in the very intense physical exercise. Regular supplementation of vitamin C may have a slight positive effect on duration and severity… however, it does not reduce actual incidence of common colds. Therapeutic randomized control trials are needed, (but hey, we don’t discount the placebo effect, either)! Of course, it’s always worth mentioning that hand washing, not vitamin C, is one of the best methods of reducing viral infections.
4. You don't need to wear sunscreen in the winter.
UV rays are coming for you, even on an overcast day. Especially for the snow bunnies thinking they can skip the sunscreen – frolicking in a snowy winter wonderland will actually increase your UV exposure thanks to the highly reflective surface. You’re also getting higher exposure at higher altitude, so whether it’s for cosmetic purposes or for skin cancer prevention… enjoy your après ski after lathering up.
5. You lose the most heat from your head.
Not really. Heat loss will occur through any exposed surface. In the winter, you’ve likely bundled up your body, which leaves your head to be the source of heat loss. But the same principle would apply if you were bundled with a beanie and scarf… and opt for a mini skirt instead.
6. Exercising outside in the winter isn't safe.
Exercising in the winter is perfectly fine. Besides, there’s no better time to boost your immunity and combat the dreaded winter weight gain! The principle of safety seriously just boils down to the basics – like remembering to hydrate, dressing appropriately and wearing reflective gear at night or sunscreen during the day.
7. Drinking alcohol will keep you warm.
Nice try. The thermal sensation you are experiencing is due to alcohol’s ability to dilate blood vessels in our skin, which provides you that rosy flush and warm, cozy feelings. However, a normal thermoregulatory response when it’s cold outside is for blood vessels to constrict to reduce heat loss in the periphery and direct greater blood supply to your core to protect your vital organs.
8. Rainy weather causes back pain and achy joints.
A comprehensive 2017 study from Harvard proves otherwise, showing no relationship between rainfall and joint or back pain after reviewing 11 million people across the country. So as it stands for now, data suggests that we don’t have that ‘feeling in our bones,’ after all. Of note, prior research has linked the ebb and flow of cold weather to an increase in arthritic joint pain, so we will have to stay tuned until more clinical data is available.