The Cold Weather Doesn’t Make You Sick: Busting an Old Myth

I think it’s safe to say that for the staff of the mobility department at Doman International, the one myth that is hard for us to stand is:

“Cold makes you sick, so I can’t put my child on the floor...”

or

“It’s cold outside, so I can’t bring my child out for a walk or run”

It’s during this cold time of year that our children with special needs, who are also immobile, are getting the fewest amount of hours on the floor. Many of our children who have walking and running as part of their physical program are denied this opportunity because of the cold weather. This is a waste of precious opportunity for these children to be active and move freely! While we were all told that the cold weather makes you sick, this claim is questionable at best. Here are the reasons why you should be skeptical:

  1. Illness comes from virus, not weather: this is a really important distinction.  It’s germs that you are exposed to that cause rhinovirus or influenza infections.  Not the cold weather itself. One has to be exposed to these germs, and if you or your child’s immunity is not strong, then it might result in the sniffles. It is worth arguing that immunity strength, which can be impacted by healthy diet, frequent physical activity and good supplementation and lifestyle, can help ward off illness.

Now, that being said, certain viruses do reproduce better at colder temperatures (one study said that influenza spreads more efficiently at about 41ºF, or 5ºC), but it’s not cold directly that makes you sick.  When the environment is cold, blood vessels constrict to keep heat in. There are not as many white blood cells going to your mucous membranes in the nose and therefore can lower your ability to fight off infections.  However, do any of your keep your house at 41ºF? I don’t think so. In addition, rhinoviruses (which usually create colds) do better in warmer temperatures, especially in spring. In other words, in the winter we might be more likely to be exposed to certain germs and viruses, but less to others!

2. Dry environments are a big factor: during cold weather seasons, it tends to get dryer.  Humidity is lower, and for those of us with any kind of heating (especially central heating) this also causes additional dryness in our homes.  Because of that, viruses can proliferate more easily. There aren’t as many water molecules in the air that a cold germ can bind to and fall. So, if you’re concerned about your child getting sick during this time of year, make sure to keep their environment more humid. You can get a simple humidifier for your home which will stop the air from getting very dry.

3. When it’s cold outside, you’re inside more: because of this, your body is not getting as much Vitamin D from the sun, which is vital to immunity support.  Because everyone is cooped up in a dryer home environment with the windows closed, chances are that more germs are going to be floating around. Also, because we are spending more time indoors, it means we are more likely to contract illnesses from others at home, in the workplace or from children who are in school. Supplement for Vitamin D by eating more eggs, oily fish, and mushrooms.  Make sure that people coming in and out of the house are washing their hands and taking off their shoes as soon as they enter the house.  No exceptions!

4. Physical activity makes you body hotter: when you’re physically active, your metabolic rate increases.  Heat is made during this process. When you’re moving, your core temperature goes up, making it harder for those pesky germs to thrive and multiply. Physical activity and exercise is good for helping your body stay healthy and avoid illness. When your child does the physical program (whether they are on the floor or walking and running -- they’re going to be moving and this will increase their body temperature.  The last thing you want to do is deny physical activity during this season!

It’s time to ask the question. Do people get ill because of the cold weather? Or is it because they spend months cooped up in indoor environments all day around other people, engage in less physical activity, are exposed to dryer environments due to heating, and exposed to more germs because they are constantly indoors? I think it’s the latter. So if you have a child who is immobile, put them on the floor. If you have a child who can walk or run, bring them out to walk or run.  If you’re really concerned about it, make sure that your child’s floor environment is well heated by using space heaters. However, make sure to run a humidifier, and keep their floor environment nice and clean. Give your child the appropriate supplements so their immunity stays high, and make sure that the whole family is washing hands regularly. The physical program is a year-round program!