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  • Writer's picturePatricia Faust

Does Weather Influence Our Brain?




As I sit here listening to the rain falling on the roof – I am about to go nuts! It feels like we live in the rainforest right now. The last 21/24 weekends we have had rain. My granddaughter has had more softball games canceled than she has played. My brain is not adjusting to this wet mess. There – off my chest!

This recollection was from a few years ago. It is even more powerful to me now than then because I can read the impact it was having on my mental health!


My experience is not unusual. It is widely known that weather can strongly influence our mood and productivity. There are people who suffer from SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder. Anyone who goes through winter with little sunlight can attest to the fact that this is hard. No wonder there are so many songs about the sun and spring!


High Temperature/High Humidity: Impaired Mental Performance

We are being challenged mentally and physically by the excessive temperatures in triple digits. These extremely high temperatures that last from days to weeks at a time are putting our health and well-being at risk. The effects of heat stroke and heat exhaustion can cause a variety of health consequences. Some of the common symptoms of heat stroke are neurological:

· Cognitive dysfunction – including confusion and loss of memory

· Disorientation

· Delirium

· Agitation

· Trouble speaking clearly

· Seizures

· Unsteadiness

· Lethargy

· Coma

(Mana medical associates. How Heat Affects Brain Health)


Scientific studies have revealed that high temperature/high humidity can impair mental performance by affecting brain neurochemistry. It is believed that thermal stress can cause cognitive impairment. Research on this was done on soldiers spending at least one year of service in desert conditions The evaluation of memory and cognitive functions indicated that there is a decline in cognitive performance in hot climates. The cognitive decline was most pronounced in attention, concentration, verbal memory, and psychomotor performance.


How can we protect our brains when the heat index is so high? We need to take this threat to our health seriously. Our mindset is not in the danger zone when temperatures are this high. It is considered an inconvenience. Advanced planning needs to be in place in preparation for these impending hot spells. Be weather aware and plan to stay cool. Use these guidelines:

· Go outdoors (for exercise or outdoor work) early in the day when it is cooler

· Stay in the shade as much as possible

· Take advantage of air conditioning

· Take it easy in hot weather, saving active sports or work for cooler times

· Most importantly, stay hydrated! Some studies indicate that subjects who drink plenty of water experience fewer negative effects from high heat than those who don’t stay hydrated

(Mana medical associates. How Heat Affects Brain Health)



Cognitive Functions in Cold Weather

Studies of cognitive function in cold weather have revealed both improvements and impairments. One study investigated the impact of exposure to the cold and the following rewarming on working memory and executive function. The results showed a decline in the test results when the participant was exposed to 10 degrees C. These impairments lasted through one hour of rewarming. There were no definitive findings, but the acute vascular changes could explain the observed changes. Other studies suggest that winter helps to wake up our minds and make us think more clearly.


Weather and Memory

Studies have shown that weather affects our mood, but there are also studies that weather affects our memory. An Australian researcher, Joseph Forgas, found that people remembered better during bad weather or when they were not in the best of moods. When the weather is bad you experience a drop in your mood and then are more likely to focus deeper on the things around you. You become more sensitive to your environment and then are able to remember things better. Nice and sunny, happy mood – you are less likely to focus on the task at hand.

I still vote for sunny and happy!


Weather and Productivity

Sun has either a positive or negative effect on productivity. Sunshine induces alertness: Bright light helps keep employees’ brains awake, alert, and attentive. Or, some employees experience distractions from gazing out the window at blue skies and bright sunshine.


Cloudy weather reduces motivation. However, it does produce fewer instances of distraction. Employees complaining that they are tired increases on cloudy days. The lack of sunshine and darker workspaces signals the brain to relax and start winding down for the day.


Old weather increases productivity. When it is cold outside you move a little faster. But when your body gets too cold, it can stop productivity altogether.


Heat slows you down. Heat is a common culprit for decreased productivity. It requires more physical demand from your body to move when an internal body temperature rises.


The weather does affect productivity, concentration, and efficiency. An ideal way to combat the effects of decreased productivity is to use creative solutions to increase brain focus. As long as your brain remains focused on a task list, it is difficult to force it to wander.


References:

Can Weather Affect Your Memory? (January 16, 2018). Retrieved from https://www.brainscape.com/blog/2011/08/can-weather-affect-your-memory/


Mana Medical Associates. How heat affects brain health. Retrieved from https://www.mana.md/how-heat-affects-brain-health/#


Parfitt, S. (February 22, 2017). From sunshine to rain: how weather affects your productivity. Retrieved from https://www.business.com/articles/how-the-weather-affects-your-productivity/


Wlassoff, V. (June 18, 2018). How weather influences the brain? BrainBlogger http://www.printfriendly.com/print/?source=site&url=/2018/06/18/how-weather-influences-the-brain/


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