It's True! The Weather Really Does Affect Your Health

Cold temps, lightning and other common phenomena can impact how you feel

By Linda Melone
Originally Posted On November 22, 2013

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If your achy knee "tells" you when it's going to rain, you already know weather can have an impact on your body. Here's an expert look at how what's happening outside can affect how you feel inside — and it's not always negative:

Lightning: Increased Headache Risk Lightning storms may trigger headaches and migraines in chronic sufferers, according to a study by University of Cincinnati researchers recently published in the journal Cephalalgia. The study detected a 31 percent increase in the risk of headaches and a 28 percent increase in the risk of migraines among chronic sufferers on days when lighting struck within 25 miles of participants' homes. Others were affected as well: researchers found a 24 percent rise in new-onset headaches among study participants.
 
"When weather creates mood changes, the goal is to figure out how to improve the moment," says Lisa Bahar, a licensed professional clinical counselor in Orange County, Calif. She suggests using imagery to get through a storm-related crisis: Imagine a calming, beautiful environment, maybe with the help of meditation recordings. Or distract yourself by going to a movie, reading a book or listening to music. "The key," Bahar says, "is to find a distraction from the depressive feeling," sparking a shift to a more content state of mind.
 
Cold: Arthritis Aggravation People with rheumatoid arthritis often experience flare-ups of achy joints during cold weather, a symptom confirmed in a recent study by Spanish scientists. They found that patients between ages 50 and 65 who visited an emergency room due to rheumatoid arthritis-related complaints between 2004 and 2007 found that they were 16 percent more likely to experience flare-ups in cold temperatures.
 
One theory links the drop in air pressure that often accompanies cold, rainy weather to increased inflammation and pain as tissues in the body expand. "While some of the data is mixed, my patients certainly complain more during damp, cold weather than when it's sunny and warm," says rheumatologist Nathan Wei, director of the Arthritis Treatment Center in Frederick, Md. Exercising in an indoor gym or heated pool may help ease the symptoms, he suggests.
 

Next Avenue contributor Linda Melone is a California-based freelance writer specializing in health, fitness and wellness for women over 50.