How many times have you woken up to a bluebird day and happily thought, “Today is going to be a great day!” Now think back to a day that started out grey, dark, and rainy. What was your outlook? Were you less likely to jump out of bed ready to face the day? Perhaps all you wanted to do was snuggle in, turn off your alarm, and take a hiatus from life. This is because the weather can have a substantial impact on your health and well-being. Extreme weather conditions may keep you from getting outside, challenge your fitness goals, dampen your mental state, or in the case of extreme heat, can lead to exhaustion and laziness.
Unfortunately the trend for extreme weather is only going to increase as climate change is changing the weather patterns and in turn, impacting our health. Climate change contributes to the rising global temperatures and leads to a higher risk of extreme weather events like drought, fire, and unbearable heat, which affects your mental and physical health. The five ways weather and health influence each other:
1. Wintertime blues
When winter comes, it changes our landscape from a place full of color to an environment made up of white, greys, and blacks. The days are shorter and darkness increases, reducing light and warmth. During these short, cold days seasonal affective disorder (SAD) can take hold, leaving you feeling hopeless, introspective, and down. SAD can negatively affect your health, relationships, and even your ability to get up and face the day. While SAD affects a small number of the population, a milder form of winter blues may impact as many as 10% to 20% of people, typically hitting the hardest in people who live far north or south of the equator.
2. Increases empathy
One upside of extreme weather conditions is that it may bring out your empathetic side. You may be nicer and more generous with the tip when the pizza guy battles the heat to make it to your door. You may be more inclined to help the homeless when the temperatures reach an all time low. Then there’s the impact of traumatic events like Hurricane Katrina or Hurricane Sandy, when strangers help strangers and people band together to get through difficult times.
3. Work performance
Rainy days may make you want to stay in bed, but once you get to work they could lead to more productive workdays. A study using data from the American Time Use Survey found that men spent an average of 30 more minutes at work than they did on sunny days. Bad weather makes you work longer and more productively, which can lead to career success. On those warm, sunny days when you’re antsy to get out of work and get outside, productivity declines.
4. Fitness levels
As you may have guessed, people are typically more physically active in the summer than in the winter. No matter how many cold weather layers you buy, cold temperatures have an uncanny ability to keep you from going on that early morning jog and can be persuasive enough to keep you holed up on the couch over the weekend. In fact, one study found that the amount of activity related energy expenditure was 40% lower in the winter months. This may be true for most of the U.S. but one study focused on areas of the U.S. that have hot, humid summer weather found that the physical activity of children in these areas was actually lower in the summer than in the winter.
5. Extreme weather and mental health
If you live in an area that has a high risk of hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, tsunamis, or other natural disasters, your mental and physical stress levels may be impacted. According to a report by the National Wildlife Federation, global warming could have significant public health implications, especially on a psychological level. They estimate that roughly 200 million Americans will be at an increased risk of psychological distress because of the climate. This includes level of stress, anxiety related disorders, substance abuse, and even suicide.