HEALTHY LIVING
01/23/2013 08:40 am ET Updated Jan 09, 2015

6 Surprising Health Benefits Of Cold Weather

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When the weather dips into the single digits, most of us want to do nothing but dive back under the covers.

And for good reason: With extreme cold weather comes health hazards like frostbite, seasonal affective disorder and even an increased risk of heart attacks.

But before you curse the weather until April, there are a few silver linings of this bitter cold.

  • Cold Weather Burns Calories
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    You may have heard of "brown fat," a type of fat found naturally in parts of the body that, when triggered, can burn off other "white" fat. In a 2012 study, researchers found that cold weather seemed to set the brown fat into motion, and that simply being cold could cause significant calorie burn. (Exercise may have a similar effect, as demonstrated in a study from around the same time, the New York Times reported.)

    The study, admittedly, was small -- it only included six healthy men, to be exact. And experts caution that the obesity epidemic is not likely to be solved by the creation of a brown-fat triggering pill. But at least the idea might offer a little comfort when you find yourself chilled to the bone.
  • Cold Weather Brings Us Closer
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    It can be tempting to spend the coldest mornings safely tucked under the covers; it's only natural to want to avoid the most brutal temps. But during periods of such weather-induced isolation, we tend to reach out to contact our closest friends and family on the phone, and end up chatting with them for longer than usual, according to a 2012 study.
  • Cold Weather Is Less Hospitable For Disease-Carrying Bugs
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    During the summer of 2012 -- when West Nile cases were climbing -- much was made of the milder 2011-2012 winter and its effect on the disease-spreading mosquito population.

    The pests thrive in milder climates, meaning they were able to survive -- and breed -- all winter, just waiting to feast come spring.

    Freezing or below-freezing temps might kill off some skeeters (and ticks), thereby protecting you from the illnesses they are known to spread.
  • Cold Weather Brings Greater Appreciation Of Brighter Days
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    Week after week of balmy weather sounds pretty lovely right about now, but there's evidence to suggest that it doesn't necessarily make you happy.

    In fact, some research suggests that if the weather never changes, you start taking that sunshine for granted. Shivering through the cold makes those warm spring days seem even better when they finally come along, according to Psychology Today.
  • Cold Weather Can Reduce Inflammation
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    There's a reason putting ice on an injury works. That drop in temperature reduces inflammation in, say, a sprained ankle or stubbed toe. But the theory works on a much grander scale, too -- cold temperatures can reduce inflammation and pain all over.

    In fact, athletes and spa-goers even have a remedy of sorts available for muscle recovery. A 2011 study found that, at extremely low temperatures, such treatments, called cryotherapy, did more for athletes to recover from physical activity than simply resting. Runners who were exposed to temperatures as low as -166 degrees F recovered from exercise faster than those who given other therapies or told to rest, The Atlantic reported.

    At spas, cryotherapy chambers appear much like steam rooms -- with, of course, the opposite effect. And while the majority of us probably won't be taking a trip to the cold room, it certainly beats summer swelling!
  • Cold Weather May Boost Your Body Image
    Alamy
    While we certainly don't advise going all-out on the wintertime comfort foods, we do appreciate the escape from the pressure to get a "bikini body." It's a great time to focus on fitness -- hello, New Year's resolutions -- without the pressure to do so for your looks alone.

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