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Winter Wonderland

January 6, 2011

By Jennifer Chaky

This post is unlikely to inspire people to expose themselves to the cold in the middle of the chilly northeast winter, but I’ve been so surprised and elated at my newfound appreciation for the frigid temps that I feel compelled to share. Let me start by saying no one loves the warm weather more than me. Like a lizard on a hot rock, I am a sun-soaker-upper and a 90-degree day is balmy and sweet as far as I’m concerned. Usually I shun the cold and minimize my exposure to it as much as possible. In winters past I would go from a warm house to a warm car to a warm building as quick as possible. But not this year—instead of going from temperature-controlled environment to temperature-controlled environment, I decided to face the frosty season and experience it more fully. As a result, I’m noticing the drastic changes in my body and wellbeing this year more than ever before. Here’s what I am doing differently and how it is affecting me.

1. Low House Temp Challenge. My daughter and I heard about a challenge that some residents in Maplewood, NJ were doing to see how long they could go with no or low heat in their homes. We decided to give it a try and only turned on our heat in December, and then only to 50 degrees to prevent the pipes from bursting. We wear sweaters and hats inside and warm our beds with hot water bottles. I am inspired by remembering how in the Little House on the Prairie books the Ingalls family survived the winter in a plank-board house with the snow falling through the roof. If they can do it, certainly I can in my solid, insulated home. The results: a healthier appetite for hearty foods that seem to burn off without adding that “winter weight” that I usually pack on. And I have yet to catch one sniffle this season.

2. Bike Riding in the Cold. Since we gave up our car, we walk and bike most places (unless we carpool, take mass transit, or borrow a car for longer distances). I’ve learned that riding a bike keeps you warmer than walking, and as long as you have on proper gear, it isn’t that bad at all. The result: a higher tolerance for the cold. I was a wuss when it came to cold weather, and now it doesn’t bother me at all. Makes for a much more pleasant winter when I’m not cursing the air around me.

3. Polar Bear Plunge into the Atlantic. I did it. I jumped into the icy sea off Coney Island this January first—completely under, head and all. The result: an invigorated feeling that has stayed with me days after the event. I feel almost like the blood coursing through my veins is cleaner and more pure,. I don’t know if this is just in my head, but I did read that cold water submersion has an effect on immunity by increasing both the number and activity of peripheral cytotoxic T lymphocytes, resulting in a sustained increase in norepinephrine, which substantiates long-term pain relief. I’m thinking regular cold showers are in my future!

And while all these cold practices are good for you, saving energy to heat our homes and water and to fuel our cars is certainly great for a warming planet.

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