It’s a bit of a rude awakening when winter finally makes its presence felt and where once you were lazing lightly on the grassy knoll in the lovely 23 degree sunshine with a bottle of rose and a wedge of camembert gives way the next day to darkness and gloom in pelting rain where a thermal underlayer is not a consideration but a necessity.
Riding along on your bicycle in such inclement conditions is not the most appropriate of behaviour perhaps, but you’ve woken up and in full ‘glass half full’ mode have considered that surely the weather will clear and this is but a temporary climate change ridden hiccup of a weather pattern. Surely once you begin your morning commute in the sun will come out, rainbows will burst forth and you’ll be singing your DIsney tunes in your head as you pass by the traffic on your way to work.
The commiserate option however is the dreaded public transport system. The communal cocophany that in this weather takes on the identity of a bacteria laden cess pool, with people coughing, sneezing and even spluttering into soaked handkerchieves or tissues whilst you are all locked in a tightly sealed vacuum of shared space is not the most attractive option. The social responsibility of taking charge of your own bacterial infection spreading is often lost on our ‘deadlines driven’ work ethic society and sometimes it leaves one questioning whether we are really being socially responsible when we consider heading into a common workplace when we really should be taking a ‘work from home’ day. But i digress…
Deciding to jump on the public system at the first hint of a rainstorm is perhaps a little bit ‘lightweight’ in approach, but the comfort of arriving at work without a soggy wet bottom from the ride in is as much a luxury as that first morning coffee. But in treading the boards of the
So whilst we are contemplating what it is like to be flying down the hill in mid winter on a bicycle, you can be forgiven for thinking that you are in an arctic gale at times, the least of issues being that all of a sudden, tears start forming in your eyes and your nose becomes a veritable torrent of fluid. Its not exactly the Canadian Alps here in Sydney so it isn’t really necessary for arctic exercise gear, but last week It certainly felt like it. So what does cold air do to our system and how much of a threat is it?
Cold air coming in through our airways is not ideal. One of the jobs that our nose does is to humidify the air as it comes into our nasal passage and passes into our lungs. Cold and dry air irritates the mucous membrane in our nasal passage and makes the nasal lining produce more mucous in order to warm the air and keep the lining moist. This results in large droplets of water coming forth from our nose and even our eyes when we are exposed to cold air. Germs and bacteria thrive in dry air and so it is not surprising that as we find ourselves in dryer climates during the winter months as well as being indoors where we heat our air, bacteria is more prevalent and thus the risk of picking up colds and flus increases.
The nasal passages also have tiny micro-hairs called cilia that act like tiny oars, sweeping along mucous through our nasal passages. When it gets cold these cilia slow in their action and therefore the effectiveness and prevention of bacteria taking hold and creating illness in the winter months is reduced. The increase of mucous and fluid in these passages is the body’s way of creating another line of defence. This increased mucous is what results in runny noses and the sniffling during the cold, winter months.
Humidifying air is one the best things that we can do to help out our nasal passages. Creating warm and humid air is the best way to help our cavities do their normal job of warming the air and filtering bacteria and possible pathogens before they enter our body. Humid air is important as dry air is not good for our body and our lungs. The air needs to be humid when it reaches the lungs and so creating humid air in winter is important for keeping everything healthy and avoiding illness.
Humidifying the space can be done by creating sources of water in the room. Bowls of water on windowsills, near heat sources help to keep the warmer heated air from our domestic heating appliances. Having plants in a room also helps. You can purchase humidifiers that create this airflow in the house but there are many ways that you can naturally humidify the home without resorting to a humidifier itself. Even drying clothes inside near the heater can help to humidify the air. It can also be as simple as showering with the door open.
In the case of the adventurous person and my daily bike commute, preventing dry cool air from entering into the mouth and nose is perhaps the best choice and as i have come to realise, the mad bandana clad biker is the best way to prevent the sniffles on the activity run. Having a ski mask may not be the most practical of solutions, but something similar, say a scarf or headband that covers the nose and mouth can help to prevent too much cold air from getting inside your airways.
Whilst it may seem a little dramatic to be obsessing over humid vs dry air, it can make the difference to preventing diseases and bacteria from getting further into our bodies and causing havoc with our winter lurgies. Whilst we don’t have a bitter winter here in Sydney it is worth being conscious of all you can do to help keep the illnesses and winter colds at bay.