The Effect of Coldness on Your Body

Cold temperatures put your body at risk of frostbite, hypothermia and can make existing illnesses – such as heart disease or diabetes – worse. Several of these problems can be prevented by dressing appropriately for the weather and staying indoors as much as possible.


Your body loses more heat in the cold than it can replace, so your body temperature drops. Symptoms of hypothermia start with shivering and get worse as your temperature falls. If it continues to drop, slurred speech and loss of coordination develop and, at the lowest level, you may begin to lose consciousness. If not treated immediately, hypothermia can lead to death.


If you’re exposed to the cold for a long time, your blood vessels close to the skin and restrict flow. This is especially true in parts of the body farthest from your core, like the fingers and toes. In extreme cold, this restricts blood flow so much that the skin can lose feeling and turn white or yellowish. Frostbite isn’t just painful; it can damage tissues, including your organs, and cause permanent disability or even death.

The common cold

When you’re in the cold, your body produces extra mucus as a defense mechanism to warm and humidify the air entering your lungs. Unfortunately, this can irritate your lungs, particularly if you have a preexisting lung condition such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or emphysema, according to the American Lung Association. In addition, cold air causes the airways in your nose to contract, further limiting airflow.

Heart disease

Cold weather makes your heart work harder to pump blood, which can raise your risk for a heart attack. If you have heart disease, talk to your doctor before doing strenuous activities in the cold, such as shoveling snow. If you do need to go out, wear loose clothing that allows for ventilation and drink plenty of fluids, avoiding caffeine and alcohol. You should also consider insulating your hands, feet and nose with gloves, a face mask and ear coverings to minimize exposure.

The good news is that if you’re healthy and don’t have any other underlying health issues, cold temperatures can actually help extend your life. Scientists at the Scripps Research Institute found that when they reduced the body’s average core temperature in laboratory mice, their lifespans increased by 20%.

However, you’re probably still better off staying indoors if you have an illness such as a major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder. While cold temperatures can trigger these illnesses, they can also exacerbate symptoms and make them difficult to treat. However, your mental health is a complex issue and there are many factors at play. This includes your social support system, medications and the severity of your illness. Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns about how cold temperatures affect your mood.