Protecting yourself during cold season: the advice from the Italian Ministry of Health

At wintertime, cold weather can have an effect on our body, even in environments where temperatures are not extremely low. This is what the World Health Organization stated, pointing out also that preventive action is essential to reduce the impacts and risks on our body.

The Italian Ministry of Health has made a brochure dedicated to this topic, containing several guidelines and useful advice in order to protect ourselves and especially the most vulnerable people – such as children, the elderly and chronically ill persons. 

What does the body do when it gets too cold?

It is important to know that our body reacts to the cold by activating natural processes. The hypothalamus is responsible for thermoregulation consisting to keep the body temperature around 37 º C, which is the optimal balance between the amount of heat produced by the body and the amount it manages to consume.

Very intense cold conditions cause vasoconstriction – which is the process involving the narrowing of blood vessels at the skin surface – to reduce heat loss through the surface of the skin. Cold weather makes not only the heart work harder to keep the body warm – also through involuntary muscle activities, such as chills –, so as a result heart rate and blood pressure may increase; but the cold also increases some cellular metabolic processes that allow to convert body’s sugar and fat stores into energy. Therefore, adequate nutrition is essential – especially in this cold season – to increase internal heat production. Below are some nutrition tips!

How you can help your body

Let’s see what actually helps us to protect our health from the cold. The Ministry of Health recommends, when leaving the house, to:

  • wrap up in layers of clothing, layers help to trap air between them forming a protective insulation;
  • wear a jacket and a pair of waterproof shoes;
  • always wear gloves, scarf and hat, with a particular attention to the head: heat is easily lost from the head, keep it warm helps to keep warm the whole body;
  • use moisturizers and lip balms to protect the skin from dryness and irritation.

Keep your home warm and stay indoors when possible, check the correct functioning of the thermoregulation systems and try to keep the temperature indoors as near to 18 ÷ 22 ° C as possible; while, the ideal relative humidity indoors is about 40-50%. In order not to make the air excessively dry, it is advisable to use humidifiers or place water containers over the radiators. 

Cold and nutrition

Nutrition is also very important during the cold season, given the increased metabolic demand from the body. Having regular hot meals and drinks will provide your body with the energy it needs to keep you warm and well, as well as a proper hydration (about 1.5/2 liters of water per day) will help thermoregulation. It is also essential to eat fruit and vegetables (5 servings per day), foods rich in vitamins, minerals and fiber. The nutritional values of these foods help to strengthen the immune defense and fight free radicals (unstable molecules that can cause damage to the cells, being responsible for degenerative diseases and cell aging processes), as well as reducing the risk of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

In this period, seasonal foods are preferable, in particular those containing beta-carotene (such as oranges, mandarins, persimmons, carrots, pumpkin, potatoes, spinach, artichokes, broccoli and cauliflower) and those containing vitamin E, able to stimulate the immune system (such as almonds, hazelnuts and extra virgin olive oil). Alcohol and spirits – that facilitate the dispersion of heat of the organism, thus favoring hypothermia – are not recommended.

It is important to follow these tips to best deal with cold season. As well as protecting your own health try and check on elderly or vulnerable neighbours during cold weather to make sure they are keeping well.

Generally, healthy individuals can bear the cold winter climate; while, the most negative cold-related injuries occur when the adaptability of the body is very reduced, and this may depend on several factors, such as age, the presence of chronic diseases or the lack of adequate shelter. If you are also taking medications and these are damaged by the cold, it is important to stop using them and consult your doctor or pharmacist.