With the arrival of autumn, we begin to notice the beauty in the shifting leaves outside and the crisp chill that signifies the end of summer. We may even take note of the seasonal arrival of pumpkin flavored treats in our local coffee shops. But, as we shift from shorts and swimsuits to sweaters and scarves, it is important to recognize the ways in which our bodies adjust to the seasons internally. Bare branches and orange leaves scattered about the grass make the changes in our external environment obvious, but our physical response to the shift in seasons is often much more subtle.
Seasonal forecast: your skin will be dryer
The most common response to fall’s return is drier skin. Many of us find ourselves reapplying lip balm more frequently and maybe even using a stronger moisturizer. This can be attributed to the decrease in temperature and humidity, which forces the skin to work harder to maintain hydration. According to dermatologists, the skin thrives most in consistent conditions. This means that every seasonal shift and change in weather acts like a shock to the system, disrupting the typical chemical balance of our skin and causing dryness and sometimes severe acne.
Exercise helps boost a sluggish metabolism
Another consequence of seasonal changes that many people experience is increased weight. Like many other mammals, humans are known to store fat during the winter months. On a scientific level, this is due to the fact that, during the seasonal change between late summer and early fall, our bodies increase their insulin resistance. This causes our livers to increase fat production so that we can store fat in our tissues and be better prepared for the winter. The best way to combat fat build-up is through diet and exercise. Aerobic exercise, like swimming and running, is especially effective at stimulating the metabolism and burning calories.
Shining a bright light on Seasonal Affective Disorder
Unfortunately, the changing of the seasons can have even more serious repercussions than dry skin and weight gain. For example, seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, can cause major depressive episodes, usually beginning in late fall or early winter. The journal Archives of General Psychiatry found that SAD causes individuals to secrete the hormone melatonin for longer periods during winter nights than during summer nights. This implies that SAD drives people to sleep more during the winter even when their bodies are fully rested. Similarly, the Journal of Psychosomatic Research published a study in which participants slept nearly three hours more each day in October than any other time of year. They linked the results of this study to the fact that hypersomnia, the medical term for excessive daytime sleepiness, sometimes occurs when the air starts to crisp up as it does in the fall. Depressive episodes and excessive amounts of sleep can severely impact one’s daily function and inhibit our ability to accomplish essential tasks. For this reason, it is important to remain attentive to changes in your general well-being during winter months. If you feel you have SAD, speak to your doctor about using a light-therapy box. It’s important to be sure that the light therapy approach will help your condition and not negatively affect any other disorders.
Take special care of your body and your heart
Even though our bodies have response mechanisms set in place to ease the shock of seasonal changes, harsh winters sometimes bring with them the threat of serious health complications. Researchers found that there is a higher rate of heart attacks during the winter than any other season. One cause for this is that, paired with a weakened immune system and higher blood pressure, strenuous outdoor activity can place serious strain on the heart, leaving individuals at a much higher risk for a heart attack.
Don’t forget your flu and pneumonia vaccines
Scientists note that colder temperatures create a friendlier environment for cold and flu viruses. Unfortunately, this leaves individuals particularly susceptible to illness during the fall and winter months. For this reason, it is imperative that you remain up-to-date on your vaccinations. If you have not received your flu or pneumonia shot yet, call your primary care provider today to schedule an appointment.
Be prepared for foul weather, be sure you have enough medications
Living in the northeast, storms sometimes affect our routines. Be sure to check that you have all your medications for up to 10 days and that your physician has given you renewals that you may need. Premier Medical Group patients can use their patient portal to renew medications or ask your doctor for medication information.
This fall, as you feel the air become more crisp and watch the trees shed their leaves, make sure you are just as aware of the ways in which your body is changing. Doing so may allow you to take preemptive measures regarding your physical and mental health, preventing the development of more serious conditions further down the line.