Winter may cause much more than just the blues

Winters can be hard on health. It brings with it a distinct change in the way we feel. Barring a few who are comfortable in the chill, most people tend to be indoors or less physically active departure from exercise and diet schedules is common. The days are shorter; less daylight makes outdoor exercise tough and promotes more passive entertainments like television watching and more snacking. It is not just the chill and sunlight but a whole lot of festivities, celebration around this time including Christmas, New year, weddings and holidays. Temptation with foods and drinks seems to be all around. Reduced sunlight is reported to affect moods too, making some differences to our commitment to health goals. Some of us even suffer from 'seasonal affective disorder' (SAD), which can compromise health. Studies have suggested that there is increase in aches and pains in winter seasons as also increase in functional impairment associated with winter-seasonal depression upto 30%.

An increase in appetite is also reported. Nature has its own ways of keeping the body warm in cold winter weather. This heat can be generated from within the body and also eating foods can raise body temperature and help body cope with the falling temperature outside. The body tends to burn more calories to keep warm and thereby the need to eat more. However, certain foods have a more profound warming effect than others (refer to table). The overall warming effect of food known as "diet induced thermognesis" is due to energy released during digestion and assimilation. This released energy is in form of heat and helps increase the body temperature.

It is not only the increased intake but preference for high calorie foods. People have also been found to eat heavier food in winters. Studies show that people choose more high fat food in winter and high carbohydrate food in summer. Not surprising, that the halwas, besan ladoos, pinnis, chikkis, gajaks and plum cakes are such an integral part of winter food. Combined with being more sedentary it is not difficult to explain why people end up gaining weight in winter months.

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