How The Weather Can Affect Your Health
The weather may not only affect your daily life — it can also affect your health. From seasonal environmental changes to temperature shifts, the weather may play a role in health symptoms with direct or indirect physical, mental, and social effects.
Environmental changes in weather and temperature may affect humans in many ways, this may include seasonal allergy triggers as the world around us begins to bloom, or temperature-triggered, cold-induced asthma. Other infections and their effects on the body may change, such as fortified flu viruses in cold weather that may become more easily transmittable.
Some are also affected when it is cold outside, noting that their joints hurt. Seasonal aches and pains in muscles and joints are theorized to be a response to changes in barometric pressure that may cause inflammation in tendons, muscles, and tissues. There are many ways that changes in the weather can affect the body, from biological changes in the body to changes in behaviors.
Colds and Flu
Though it is possible to get the common cold or the flu year-round, there is the well-known cold and flu season that strikes primarily in winter, but may also stretch late fall through early spring. Three notable theories on why the flu is more common in the winter include:
- People spending more time in indoor, confined spaces with less air circulation, and with others who may have the virus.
- Lowered levels of vitamin D and melatonin which may compromise immune systems and the ability to fight off the virus.
- The virus itself may survive better and could be more easily transmitted in colder, drier climates.
Other common winter illnesses that may be triggered by cold, dry weather may include acute bronchitis, chronic bronchitis, pneumonia, and whooping cough. Preventative measures against winter illnesses may include washing hands thoroughly and regularly, avoiding crowds if possible, and staying home if you are ill to prevent the spread of illness to others.
Heart and Circulation
The chill of winter can challenge your heart and circulation. Cold weather can trigger a bodily response to keep as much warmth as possible close to vital organs, which can result in the restriction of tiny blood vessels in the limbs of the body. This restriction may increase strain on the heart as it works to circulate blood and overcome the resistance from restricted vessels. While these occurrences may not impede those with a healthy circulatory system, those with histories of heart disease may be at greater risk.
Studies have shown that heat waves also create a challenge for the cardiovascular system to regulate body temperature. Drastic changes in weather like extremes in heat and cold may have health effects that impact the body’s ability to regulate itself, causing increased stress to cope with environmental factors and susceptibility to illness or exacerbated chronic disease issues.
Reducing the risk of cardiovascular and circulation issues due to weather changes may include avoiding vigorous physical activity, staying hydrated, and wearing weather-appropriate clothing.
Skin and Hair
Skin and hair may also be subject to seasonal influence. Seasonal changes may bring increases or decreases in temperature and humidity that may affect the skin’s ability to regulate filaggrin proteins and corneocyte surface texture. Filaggrin are proteins that help maintain the skin’s barrier function. Filaggrin and corneocyte cells — the cells on the outermost part of the skin’s epidermis — are affected by climate and seasonal changes. This may increase the risk of eczema, psoriasis, and dry, irritated skin from low temperatures and low humidity, which may affect the skin cell’s ability to naturally moisturize.
Seasonal changes may also affect hair growth, which can also result in seasonal shedding and complaints of hair loss. Hair loss can also be associated with wearing tight-fitting hats, as found in studies performed on nurse’s cap alopecia, which concluded that wearing tight-fitting hats may cause localized hair loss. Hats are often employed during summer months to protect from the sun, so ensuring that head-ware properly fits and doesn’t constrict blood flow or irritate hair follicles may help alleviate symptoms.
Other ways to mitigate skin and hair follicle irritation from changing environmental factors may include utilizing thickening agents or hair growth products such as vitamins or moisturizers. There are also a few options to help alleviate dry skin in winter or sunburned skin in summer. Utilizing sunscreen and wearing sun-protective clothing can protect the skin from sunburn. Moisturizing skin and using aloe vera lotion can help soothe burned skin. Moisturizing during winter, using a humidifier indoors, and using lukewarm water to bathe can help protect natural skin oils and keep skin moisturized.
The influence of weather on mood variability is well recognized. Evidence shows that the weather, including daylight, has an effect on the normal range of daily mood fluctuations. Better moods are typically associated with less precipitation, absence of fog, and lower atmospheric pressure. There are also mental health benefits associated with natural environments, which can be more accessible with mild weather and climates.
Circadian rhythms are the natural internal processes that regulate a person’s sleep and wake cycle. Changes in daylight and season can alter sleep habits and activities, though it does not change the amount of sleep one needs. While less daylight in winter may affect circadian rhythms and sleep cycles, it is important to remember that excess sleep is not needed. Though the visual cues of light and darkness may encourage lethargy, sleepiness, or notable changes in mood, it is important to continue regulating a 24-hour cycle of rest and awakedness. To encourage regular sleep cycles in the winter, attempt to increase exposure to light, and maintain physical activity during the day.
The influence of weather on subjective well-being can greatly impact mood. Weather patterns such as high and low temperatures, sun exposure, and rain can all impact the mood and feelings of happiness. Seasonal variations in physical activity can also have implications for human health. As weather patterns change seasonally, physical activity may also increase or decrease. Physical exercise can improve mental health by reducing anxiety, stress, depression and negative moods. Exercise can also increase self-esteem and cognitive function. It is important to maintain physical activity and other general lifestyle tips for better overall health throughout the year to reduce the physical and psychological impacts of stress. Adapt to temperature by wearing clothing suitable for the weather and outdoor activity. Utilize indoor and temperature-controlled gyms and pools to reap the health benefits of swimming and exercising.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression or depressive episodes that correlate with the change of the seasons. More often it occurs in the late fall and winter, but some experience depressive episodes in the summer. Symptoms may include feelings of depression, low self-esteem, trouble sleeping, and may sometimes include frequent thoughts of death or suicide. SAD is often treated by a medical professional and may include the use of medication, light therapy, psychotherapy, and vitamin D.
Climate change can have a variety of effects on mental health. Increased exposure to heat may increase aggressive behaviors. Heatwaves have been associated with increases in mental and behavioral disorders in addition to cardiovascular and renal illness, as well as feelings of psychological and physical exhaustion. The effects of changing weather on public health may also take a toll through environmental degradation, resource depletion, impacts on food production, an increase inf air pollution, as well as potential environmentally-induced migration or population dislocation. Reducing actions that contribute to climate change, as well as planning and preparing for changing weather patterns and changes to the environment, may help to alleviate social and economic stresses that impact human and public health.
Climate impact on agriculture and food supplies includes access to food as well as socio-economic impacts from disruption to the economy. Impacts on crops may include:
- Elevated levels of Co2 in the atmosphere can increase plant growth, and/or disrupt and create nutrient deficiencies in crops, resulting in less nutrient-dense foods.
- Extreme changes in temperature and precipitation can reduce yields or prevent crops from growing.
- Potential drought conditions may challenge water availability for crops.
Impacts on livestock may include:
- Heat waves that may cause heat stress and increase vulnerability to disease, reduced fertility, and reduced milk production.
- Droughts may threaten pasture and feeding supplies for livestock.
- Changing seasons may allow for some pathogens and parasites to survive more easily, increasing the risk of parasites and diseases that affect livestock.
- Increased atmospheric Co2 can cause the nutrient density of crops to decrease, increasing the demand for feed to meet nutritional needs.
Weather and climate extremes impact air and water quality, contribute to negative economic impacts, and ultimately are bad for human health. Heatwaves, droughts, wildfires, cold waves, snowfall, and flooding may all affect water and air quality. Flooding can also increase the opportunity for the overflow of contaminants from industrial, agricultural, and urban areas to other bodies of water, impacting access to clean water.