For the past week I’ve been joking that every nice day was “the last day of summer.” Today I’m wondering if maybe I was right. It’s cold, windy and rainy here in Saint Paul, and I’ve started to see a few yellow and orange edges popping out on some of the leaves. It looks like fall is fast approaching.
With the change in the weather, lots of people report changes in their health – allergies, headaches, fatigue, stiff joints and so on. I wondered whether these “ill effects” were real, or just a side effect of the general grumpiness we Minnesotans tend to feel when we realize that another summer is slipping away. It turns out, weather-related health issues are real, and there’s even a whole field of science devoted to studying them: biometeorology.
The titles of all of the articles I scanned from the latest issue of the International Journal of Biometeorology were mind-numbingly technical and way boring. Fortunately, I was able to find a couple of articles written in plain English elsewhere that summarized much of the latest research in the field. Here’s what I found to be most interesting:
1. It’s the Change That’s Dangerous – In many cases, it doesn’t matter whether the weather is getting hotter or colder, damper or dryer, it’s just the fact that it’s changing that causes people to experience negative physical symptoms. The body’s homeostasis becomes upset, and that’s when problems can occur.
2. Weather-Related Symptoms are Wide-Ranging – There is evidence that the weather can play a role in symptoms affecting nearly every system of the body, from musculoskeletal to respiratory to circulatory and even the nervous system. Achy joints and migraine headaches are often attributed to changes in barometric pressure; allergies and asthma can be tied to a rise or fall in temperature or humidity; and heart attacks rise precipitously with extreme changes in temperature.
3. Your Best Defense – Follow Mom’s Advice! – It turns out, the best thing you can do to avoid the ill effects of the changing seasons is to get your rest, drink plenty of fluids and dress in layers. By helping to maintain your body’s internal homeostasis, you can greatly combat the changes going on outside of it. Staying hydrated is key to maintaining good blood flow, and drinking hot liquids when it’s cold outside (or vice versa in the summer months) can help keep your body temperature stable.
It’s especially important that you don’t over-exhert yourself when there are big changes in the weather. Your body is already stressed by trying to adapt to its new environmental conditions, so now’s not the best time to push yourself to the max. Instead, make yourself a nice cup of tea, curl up with a blanket and take advantage of those extra hours of darkness by getting a few more winks.