Wednesday August 27, 2014

Winter myths debunked


We’ve all heard the old winter standard that if you go out without your hat or with wet hair you will catch a cold.

But does being out in the cold really increase your chances of getting a cold? No, it doesn’t. Colds are caused by viruses. These viruses, in fact, need very warm temperatures to survive, which is probably why, or so it seems, we tend to get more colds in winter when everyone is huddled together indoors. Perhaps going out in the cold is the best thing to help you avoid a cold especially since there is good evidence cold may, in fact, help boost your immune system.

Interestingly, I think this “catch a cold” myth is actually a misinterpretation of what people originally meant. The way I remember it going is “Don’t go our without your coat; you’ll catch your death of cold.”

That, of course, makes sense since going out for too long without proper clothing will ultimately lead to hypothermia.

Another good reason for going out in the cold, you may have been told, is to get that precious sunlight that combats winter depression. Except experts, including Harvard professor John Sharp author of the book Emotional Calendar, say depression is no more pronounced in the winter than other times of year.

But what about those holiday blues? It is true that some people do become anxious or sad around the holidays, but that’s a temporary stress-related reaction, Sharp says.

And apparently there is a very small number of people who suffer from something called Seasonal Affective Disorder (itself not lacking controversy), which has symptoms similar to depression, but only occurs during winter months. It’s a clever bit of acronym-making though.

What fascinated me is that Sharp, while debunking the winter-related depression myth, recommended the thoroughly debunked light therapy for people who are feeling kind of down. Then again, as an M.D., he is probably well aware of the placebo effect.

That is probably the best reason for getting out in the cold. Being active is the best cure for what ails you. But don’t forget your hat, because you lose most of your heat from your head. Well, of course you do if your head is the only part of your body that is exposed. If you went out in shorts and a hat, you’d lose most of your heat from your legs.



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