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Heather Hanks
Written by Heather Hanks

Reviewed by Physician Kong Teck Chuan and Dr Angelica L Dumapit on November 2, 2022

Does Cold Weather Make You Sick?

Cold weather makes your immune cells less effective at protecting you from viral infections. Learn more about keeping warm and supporting your immunity this winter.

Winter makes you sick min scaled

Do you remember as a kid when your mother or grandmother told you to dress warm in cold weather or you’d catch a cold? You may even tell your own kids this today as they head out the door for school this winter.

But have you ever wondered if there is there any truth to this? Does the cold weather really make you more likely to get sick?

Here’s what the experts say about whether cold weather makes you more susceptible to getting sick. Then read on to learn tips for staying healthy and warm during the winter when cold and flu season is most common.

How Does Cold Weather Affect Your Health?

Being cold reduces your immune cell’s ability to protect you against viruses.

Cold weather alone does not make you sick. However, it increases the risk of catching a cold for several reasons.

First, viruses survive and reproduce more rapidly in the cold, dry winter air, making it easier for them to spread. The cold weather also keeps people inside and viruses spread quickly in close areas. Additionally, research shows that cold dry air makes your immune cells less effective at protecting you against viral infections. Dry air can also dry out your nasal passages, making them less effective to fight off viruses.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Physician Kong Teck Chuan, “Being cold when exposed to cold weather can make us ill. When we are healthy, we can acclimatize to these external environment changes. When the balance in our body as well as with the environment is upset, we are not able to cope with external changes. This is how cold weather can cause sickness.”

“Cold weakens the yang energy in our body, causing us to feel cold and pain in the affected area. In some cases, as our qi flow is also affected, coldness emotions such as depression and fatigue may set in, too. Our extremities are affected as well, leading to things like cold hands and feet. Cold causes the flow of qi, blood and body fluid to slow down. This may lead to joint and muscle pain and stomach discomfort,” Physician Kong further explained.

COVID-19 and flu symptoms

There are many different upper respiratory viruses that cause the common cold. Rhinoviruses are the most common for runny noses. These viruses can also lead to asthma, sinus infections, and ear infections.

Most rhinoviruses replicate in the nasal passageway where temperatures range from 91 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit. This is lower than the body’s core temperature of 98.6. Lower temperatures tend to make these viruses replicate easier. Additionally, the coronavirus and influenza can also enter and replicate through your nose.

Cardiovascular risks

Research shows that there is a link between cold weather and adverse effects on heart health.

One study found that heart attacks were more likely to happen on days with cold air temperatures. Another study found that lower-than-average air temperatures were linked to hospitalizations for stroke.

Results of another study conducted by the American College of Cardiology showed the risk of a heart attack increased by about 5% for every five-degree Celsius jump in temperature.

Swings of more than 25 degrees Celsius were associated with a greater increase in heart attack rates compared to a smaller increase of 10 to 25 degrees Celsius.

If you have a heart condition, be mindful of outdoor activities in the cold, such as shoveling snow, as this may put too much strain on the heart.

Tips For Staying Healthy This Winter

Warm herbal soups can help you fight the cold winter weather and stay hydrated.

Physician Kong recommends the following to help stay healthy this winter:

  • Try warming herbs, such as brown sugar ginger tea, which can disperse and expel Cold. It also helps promote circulation to help warm up cold hands and feet.
  • Black pepper warms the central body and helps move qi downwards to reduce distension
  • Shiso perilla moves the central qi and expels Wind and Cold
  • Soak your feet in a warm foot bath prepared with Argy Wormwood Leaf (Mugwort) and fresh ginger to promote better sleep

You can also add warming soups and herbal teas to your diet to help fight the cold weather and stay hydrated. Immune-boosting supplements such as Cordyceps and Lingzhi contain anti-viral properties that can help fight the common cold.

Additionally, bird’s nest has been shown to help support respiratory health, which can help protect against coughing and nasal congestion.

Exercise with caution in cold weather

Those with weak qi should consider doing Qigong exercises to build immunity.

Qigong integrates meditation, breathing therapy, interlacing body movements, and coordinated body posture. It focuses on the self-awareness of posture and stillness, which aims to reach the deep states of body-mind relaxation and calmness. 

“For those who live in places where winter gets very cold, exercise carefully and avoid sweating too much. Do not be overly covered or consume ‘heaty’ or fried food in excess as it may lead to illness as well. It’s also important to protect the neck, back, and legs from cold wind. Cover your head to prevent heat loss from the top,” recommended Physician Kong.

References

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