Record low temperatures are predicted for more than six dozen locations across the East. Single-digit temperatures are possible in Georgia and Tennessee. Wind chills will be in the teens in Florida. And February seems hell-bent on convincing the last global-warming denier that something weird is going on. But it got us thinking -- OK, desperately looking for -- is there a silver lining to all this? Could it really be that we keep better in the cold? Here are five reasons why maybe -- just maybe -- the cold is good for something:
1. Cold weather may help you lose weight.
As we age, our metabolism slows and we tend to gain weight. Well the good news is that there are two types of fat in the human body: white fat and brown fat. The brown fat is the heat-producing, calorie-burning fat that babies need to regulate their body temperatures, said the Harvard Health Letter. Most of our brown fat disappears with age, but PET scans have shown that we retain some of it. And guess what? When we are cold, our bodies fire up those brown fat cells to keep us warm and we burn more calories.
2. Cold weather can be good for what hurts you.
In some countries, the use of cold temperatures for medical purposes is taken quite seriously. Finnish researchers reported the results of a study of 10 women who took cold-water plunges (20 seconds in water just above freezing) for three months and submitted to whole-body cryotherapy sessions. The women's blood showed a two- to three-fold jump in norepinephrine levels after exposure to the cold water. Norepinephrine is a chemical in the nervous system that wears many hats, including having a role in pain suppression, according to the Harvard report.
While being outside in cold weather is different than whole body cryotherapy (and may not have the same effect), in Japan, this "cold" therapy has been used to treat pain and inflammation from rheumatic and other medical conditions for about 30 years. Patients typically spend up to three minutes in a room cooled to -166 degrees. Even post-50 celebrities like Demi Moore have tried it.
Think about it: Ice has long been considered nature's anesthesia. It numbs our injuries and reduces swelling.
3. Cold weather may improve your sex life.
A National Institutes of Health report found that testosterone levels in men spike in the autumn and again in February; the levels drop during the warm summer months. So the colder it is, the higher the testosterone. While testosterone isn't the only fuel for a man's sex drive, low testosterone can reduce the ability to have satisfying sex. Now combine that seasonal surge of testosterone with the idea that frigid temperatures tend to keep us house-bound. Not everybody is binge-watching TV.
4. Cold kills disease-mongering insects.
Harvard Health says that cold temperatures may actually be performing a great public health service: They kill off disease-mongering insects and microorganisms. One of the big worries about climate change is that winter will lose its pestilence-fighting punch.
5. Cold weather has been linked to living longer.
In a study published in Cell, researchers from the University of Michigan discovered that worms exposed to cold temperatures had a genetic response that triggered longer life spans.
In 2006, scientists at the Scripps Research Institute found that reducing the core body temperature of mice extended their lifespan by up to 20 percent. And a Stony Brook University study in 2009 found that while mussels in the warm waters of Spain lived only 29 years, mussels in frigid Russian waters lived upward of two centuries. Of course the leap from simple organisms to humans is a big one requiring more research.
But before anyone moves to a colder climate, it’s important to remember the toll that cold weather can take. Yes there is a darker side. Studies have shown that death rates are higher this time of year. Blood pressure increases in the winter. And flu season is a wintertime event because flu viruses spread faster when the air is dry and chilly. Plus if it's too cold out, we tend to stay indoors and get less sun exposure, which means less vitamin D. All of which makes the case for California dreaming.