by Spooky Jess
An essay about the health benefits of snow. For: Merit Badge Projects.
Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow
The Benefits of Snow and Why You Should Love It Too
I love winter and I love snow. I know, I know, I’m in the crazy minority of people that love taking polar plunges, going sledding, making snow ice cream, and just being out in the snow. Every winter I look forward to the falling white crystals that cover the slumbering grasses in warmth until Spring. I love the way the snow crystals sparkle in the sun—to say it is picturesque and breathtaking, doesn’t do justice to the actual beauty of snow. However, besides snow being aesthetically pleasing, there are health, agricultural, and economic benefits to snow. Although most complain about the back-breaking shoveling (I don’t disagree there), temperate climates need snow to thrive—not having snow can be devastating for a myriad of people.
Every year from 2011 until 2014, I loved participating in the Brandyine Valley Association’s Polar Plunge. Every January, I loved writing the donation letters and sending them off to collect money for the BVA’s fundraiser for their water shed. The money went to water and animal conservation. I often collected more than $125 for the BVA. I loved fundraising, but I loved every February of dressing up in a costume for their costume contest, then ripping off that costume to a bathing suit and plunging into the 34 degree water of the Brandywine Creek. Not only was the contest costume and subsequent polar plunge fun, but there are health benefits to polar plunges. In 1903, the Coney Island Polar Bear Club claimed that polar plunges are “a boon to one’s stamina, virility and immunity.” It can help with fat burning by activating brown fat (babies are born with a lot of this – it helps them keep warm), muscle soreness and can relieve stress. According to Mercola Fitness’s website, “exposing your whole body to cold water for short periods of time, which is precisely what polar bear plunges entail, is actually used to promote “hardening.” Hardening is the exposure to a natural stimulus, such as cold water, that results in increased tolerance to stress and/or disease” by increasing glutiathion, which keeps “your body's most powerful antioxidant, which keeps all other antioxidants performing at peak levels.”
However, Time magazine argued in 2013 that polar plunges might not be what was claimed in 1903 by the Coney Island Polar Bear Club because “doctors aren’t so convinced that these plunges are good for you, noting that there is no solid evidence of any physical health benefits associated with swimming in freezing cold water. In fact, they say, the sudden drop in temperature can be dangerous for people with underlying health issues.” Doctors, according to Time, warn that “when people first immerse themselves in such frigid water, their bodies go into “cold shock,” and they start gasping for air, which puts a strain on the heart.” In people with heart disease, their blood vessels in their heart can constrict, leading to chest pains like angina or a heart attack. As they desperately try to breathe and pull in more oxygen, they may inhale too much water and drown. However, the Cleveland Clinic said taking polar plunges are fine if people check with their doctor first before immersing themselves in cold water.
If polar plunges aren’t your things, winter sports are very good for one’s health both physically and mentally. According to Family Health and Wellness, winter sports can “burn more calories than their warm weather equivalent, since it takes more energy for the body to maintain homeostasis in a colder environment” and release “endorphins and adrenaline are released into the bloodstream, elevating the mood and providing an overall sense of well-being and contentment.” Snowboarding can burn tons of calories, ice-skating can tone muscles, and skiing is good for cardio benefits. Family Health and Wellness does warn, however, that “Dehydration is one of the biggest problems facing winter sport participants. Similar to swimming, athletes tend to forget that they are losing important fluids through sweating and normal respiration. In fact, at elevations of 6,000 feet, you exhale and perspire two times more moisture than you do at sea level. Additionally, cold weather and high altitudes tend to inhibit thirst and appetite.” They tell people to avoid alcohol and caffeine before going out in the snow, drink plenty of water and wear enough sunscreen. Yes, you can still get sunburned in the winter, especially from the sun’s rays reflecting off of the snow. Just have fun and follow those precautions: hydrate, hydrate, hydrate and wear sunscreen! Much like you would in the summer when you would go swimming.
Of course, winter isn’t only about the fun and games, but also work. Snow is important for agriculture and for our economy. Although we may complain about the snow from having to drive in it, shoveling it, or it ruining our plans; snow is important for the environment. According to Eric Novak on the Enviro Dad website, he explains farmers need snow because snow “blankets their fields so that when it all melts in the spring, their fields are properly irrigated and ready for planting. A lack of moisture in the soil right from the outset is very problematic and can force farmers in severe situations to either reduce their plantings or in a worst case scenario, not plant at all” and “Snow is also necessary for farmers that plant certain crops in the fall. Other crops that are planted in the fall require snow to protect the seeds from predators like birds.” If we fail to get snow, we could face agricultural shortages from plants dying, not growing at all, or the soil is infertile.
When we face agricultural shortages, our economy suffers because that means the price of groceries will rise. And the raise would not only be vegetables or fruits, but everything from milk to bread. Everything relies on the grains, vegetables and fruits. A shortage of one thing means that cows, pigs, goats, etc. can’t be properly fed or there’s not enough grain to make breads, chips, and a variety of other food items we eat. Not only does the lack of snow effect farmers and grocers, but there are people that depend on snow for their livelihood. Several decades ago, people could expect a lot of snow in their areas, but a recent trend of temperatures being warmer than usual has stopped a lot of snow fall. That began changing in the past few years and now we’re seeing snow again. Younger people think all this snow is “abnormal,” but it is in fact “normal” to get a lot of snow in some areas. I agree with Novak’s assertion: “Snow is a natural part of the ecological cycle in this part of the world and when we start seeing the cycle becoming all messed up, the consequences begin to pile up which can be far more problematic than the pile up of snow at the end of our driveway that by and large we haven’t had to deal with much over the past few winters.”
Even if winter is not your favorite season with the cold and snow, please remember this season is important in an agricultural and economic sense. Without snow, we would be in trouble. However, snow is beautiful and it has awesome health benefits from alleviating depression (I know it alleviates mine – I have summer SAD where summer depresses me, but winter perks me up), muscle toning, stress reduction and burning calories. Next time snow falls in your area—put down that shovel and go sledding or snowboarding instead!
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