Some cold-weather wisdom is light on facts. Problem is, these fictions don’t just give you the warm and fuzzies — they can pack on the pounds, stuff up your nose and even increase your risk of cancer. This season, don’t let these winter health myths get the best of you.
1. Cold air can make you sick.
Despite it being called the common “cold,” lower temperatures alone won’t make you sick. In fact, the exact opposite is true. “Cells that fight infection in body actually increase if you go out into the cold,” says Rachel C. Vreeman, M.D., co-author of “Don’t Swallow Your Gum! Myths, Half-Truths and Outright Lies About Your Body and Health.” It’s your body’s way of combating the stress of freezing temps. Plus, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, cold viruses grow best at about 91 degrees; if you’re outside in the cold, your nostrils are surely colder than that.
2. Your allergies go away if it’s cold.
Allergies might be the real source behind your stuffy nose and scratchy throat this season. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, 1 in 5 people suffer from indoor/outdoor allergies, and the indoor variety can actually be worse in the winter. Pets don’t spend as much time outdoors, closed windows seal in poor air quality, and many molds even thrive in the winter, Vreeman says. If your symptoms last longer than 10 days or ease up after taking an antihistamine, it might be time to visit an allergist.
3. It’s OK to skip sunscreen if it’s cold.
“Because the Earth’s surface is closer to the sun during the winter months, we are actually exposed to more harmful rays without even realizing it,” says Robert Guida, M.D., a board-certified plastic surgeon in New York City. What’s more, snow and ice can both reflect up to 80% of harmful UV rays so that they can hit the skin twice, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.
4. You lose most of your body heat through your head.
Contrary to the findings from one 1950s Army study, most of your body heat doesn’t escape through your noggin, according to Vreeman. “In the now-infamous study, volunteers visited the Arctic with their heads exposed. However, the rest of them was outfitted in gear designed to protect against the cold, so it’s logical that they lost most of their body heat from their heads,” she says. If you go outside without gloves, you’ll lose a disproportionate amount of heat through your hands.
5. Depression is caused by a lack of sunlight.
While dark days certainly don’t help, there are many other factors besides seasonal affective disorder that can contribute to winter depression — especially around the holidays. Busy schedules, family stress and worries about holiday spending are more likely to trigger the blues than true SAD, which affects just 5% of Americans.
(Health delivers relevant information in clear, jargon-free language that puts health into context in peoples’ lives. Online at www.health.com.)
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