Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Does Cold Weather Help You Live Longer?

     I'm always looking for the silver lining, so the other day when I was outside shoveling the walkway and freezing my butt off, the thought came to me that I'd read somewhere recently that people who live in cold climates live longer than people in warmer climates. So I began to wonder, is that really true, or is it just a tale northerners tell themselves? I decided to do some homework on the issue.

     Researchers from the University of Michigan, in a study published in the journal Cell, reported that worms exposed to cold temperatures demonstrate a genetic response that triggers longer life spans. The researchers went on to speculate that the phenomenon may translate to humans since similar genetic pathways are present in human beings.

     Also, according to an article in Prevention magazine, scientists at the Scripps Research Institute in California found that reducing the core body temperature in mice extends their lifespans by up to 20 percent. And another study discovered that mussels in balmy Spain live an average of only 29 years, but mussels in frigid Russia survive as long as 200 years!

     Well, that's fine. But what if you're not a worm or a mouse or a mussel? The evidence is not nearly so clear. One source who believes cold weather extends life suggested that things get rotten in warm places. So people living in northern climes are like perishables put in the refrigerator -- they last longer. Another speculates that many harmful bugs and bacteria are killed off during the cold northern winters, lessening the threat of deadly diseases to northerners. Still another says that southerners suffer more damage from overexposure to the sun, which ages the skin and causes skin cancers, thus shortening their lives compared to their northern counterparts.

     Another suggestion: The mitochondria in human cells produce body heat by burning fats and oxygen, and in the process they swallow up the free radicals that contribute to aging. People in cold climates need more mitochondria to produce more heat. They therefore have more mitochondria, and the more mitochondria you have, the slower your aging process.

     On the other hand, some southerners point out that northerners don't get enough sunlight, and may bear the consequences in Vitamin D deficiencies. Some health experts estimate that 50 percent of adults have low levels of vitamin D, largely because they spend too much time indoors away from the sun. The long, dark northern winters may also bring on seasonal affective disorders and other forms of depression which can lead to premature death.

     Being stuck inside, northerners are also more exposed to communicable diseases such as influenza, and because the cold air dries out people's mucus membranes, they are more susceptible to infections, and more likely to suffer from allergies and asthma. They are also more likely to lead sedentary lives resulting in obesity, diabetes, cancer and heart problems.

     However, studies also show that cold weather may affect our body chemistry to reduce the impact of pain, and exposure to freezing temperatures can increase our energy output. Presumably, taking a two-mile walk in 20-degree weather is more exercise than taking a two-mile walk in 70-degree weather -- and we don't feel the aches and pains afterwards.

     So what does all this mean? According to an article in U. S. News, you are most likely to live to age 100 if you reside in North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa or Nebraska. These states are indeed cold, but they also share another common denominator. They are all Midwestern states where people may have old-fashioned Midwestern values such as hard work and clean living.

     Meanwhile an article in WedMD tells us that the states with the longest living residents are Hawaii, Minnesota, North Dakota, Connecticut and Utah. The states with the shortest life expectancy are: Kentucky, South Carolina, Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi.

     You can see the obvious correlation between temperature and longevity (with the exception of Hawaii). But it's also pretty obvious that a lot of other issues are involved, including wealth, education and a host of other factors. But maybe we can take this away from the issue: If you live in the north get outdoors more, especially in the winter. If you live in the south, stay out of the sun, especially in the summer. But no matter where you live, try to get more exercise.

21 comments:

Stephen Hayes said...

Interesting. I don't see Oregon mentioned anywhere. I don't think humans lived very long during the Ice Age, but there might have been other factors involved.

Anonymous said...

I live in Washington on the border of Oregon, people complain about the damn rain, I say don't live here if you hate inclement weather, we lived in Colorado it was dry as hell all year long, I longed for the beach and everyone laughed at me saying I was thinking of the Gulf of Mexico I was not..I lived in southern central and northern California I could smell the sea all the time I lived there! I could see the blue skies and the islands of Anacapa off of Ventura, come on when one is raised by the sea and the mountains and greenery one gets used to it, it took me years to get used to 70 to 80 degree days in San Diego but I did it was chilly in the middle of the state of californa and downright cold and green in the bay area but it was the pacific ocean I knew, my hubs from New York and used to cold as hell winters freezing and hot as hell summers we are fine with anykind of weather as no one can control the temperatures at all..Just be happy we live in the USA our only travels all around the world and she says even with the bs in the USA it is the best country in the world~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

gigihawaii said...

I think what really matters is having a nice social network. Without friends and family, it is hard to stay alive and be happy.

DJan said...

It also is important for those living in the north to take supplemental Vitamin D3. My doctor tested me a few years ago to see whether I was deficient, and I was. I feel much healthier now that I take a supplement, and I do get out in the weather, no matter what it is. BTW, Tom, because of your question on my blog, I learned that the Orient Express no longer runs, as of 2009! :-)

Olga Hebert said...

My take away: continue to spend winters in sunny Florida and keep the air conditioner turned up.

Sheryl Kraft said...

I don't buy it. Cold=misery for me. I just returned from (sunny, warm) California and everyone was outside, active, enjoying the fact that they could bike, run, walk, move! Here, not so much. (Can you tell I hate the winter??)

Kathy @ SMART Living 365.com said...

Hi Tom! So sorry to hear you are still stuck in a freezer! Those of us in the Palm Springs area have had a bit of a cold snap too--it got down 68 for a high for a day or two :-) But thankfully we are back to low 80s today. (you can shoot me if you want!) But I have my own theory about whether people live longer when it's cold out--they just THiNK they are living longer ! ~Kathy

Dick Klade said...

Seems the places humans live the longest, such as Okinawa and a lovely island off the coast of Greece, are hardly cold weather areas.

I've been noticing a vast expansion of the obit sections of my local SW Michigan newspaper in January and February each year.

Doesn't look like a good correlation between cold worm and cold person longevity.

Barbara said...

I'm going to straddle the Mason-Dixon line so I can get the best of both situations. Very interesting. Thanks for the info.

Janette said...

People live longer in cold because they have to shovel in the winter and madly garden in the summer ;)

Anonymous said...

Forget science. The answer is very simple. How many old people do you see in warm states, such as Florida? And how many old people do you see in cold states, such as North Dakota (or NY for that matter)?
If the answer is Florida, I rest my case.

schmidleysscribblins.com said...

The life expectancy in Minnesota has been higher in the past because the population in that state was composed of mostly Northern Europeans. Remains to be seen if that trend continues with the influx of Somalies in recent years. The life expectabpncy at birth for folks in Mississippi is much lower and has been the lowest for many years. Mississippi has one of the highest percentages of African Americans in the US states. Race and life expectancy are highly correlated. However, race does not cause life expectancy. Other factors such as access to medical care, healthy life style choices, and life style itself are factors. Least of all in the mix is the weather. Humans survived the Ice Ages for heavens sake. Interesting topic Tom.

Anonymous said...

Purely in the interest of scientific inquiry, my spouse and I are selling our house in NH and moving to southern AZ! :-) We'll keep you posted how the experiment works out.

Seriously, after having fulfilled some family obligations and.this awful winter we are going move where we want to live while we can still enjoy it. We love the desert but realize it's not for everyone.

Cheers

RustyMusket

Douglas said...

As you know, I live in Florida and in a city where it is said the average age is around 55 years. All of my so-called friends are older than me and many of them are in their 80's. These are year-round residents, not "snowbirds." I don't know about climate mattering to longevity but I know that cold sucks!

Jeffrey Hunt said...

While I have not come across much proof that cold weather helps one to live longer, but there are a few facts that would support the argument. Disease spreading insects usually thrive in warm weather. And cold weather is a natural remedy for reducing inflammation in the body. These facts would lead one to believe that it may be true.

Jeffrey Hunt @ Go Patterson

KatyK said...

HUH?

KatyK said...

HUH?

Levi Eslinger said...

Felt cold just reading this one! Interesting, and I can well believe it. We're a pretty hardy bunch in BC, and my Dad was always convinced that a cold, crisp winter worked to keep away the bugs! I certainly feel good when it's cold and I'm active - as long as I'm eating well and sleeping enough. Some compensation for a lack of tropical climate anyway.

Levi Eslinger @ Capital Plumbing

Anonymous said...

I think it's not the outside temperature that matters the most, but the indoor temperature! If it's freezing cold outside and toasty warm in your house, you'll be more likely to get out and have fun during winter knowing that at home it's cozy and warm. If you constantly complain about cold then check the indoor temperature instead of the outside.

James Breti said...

You should try central Canada. The block heater plastic cord shatters like glass and the car refuses to move in drive. Motor has to warm up for 20 mins before you think about going anywhere. If your car dies on a back road and its -45 and windy and you have no phone,make piece with the big guy!

Wendy Fenster said...

I want to move to Florida. One reason is my body temperature at Dr's office is 95! I am feeling cold all the time. I am rarely feeling warm. The NE is my home, and I will miss our son and our home terribly, but I can't stand feeling so uncomfortably cold all the time. BJ