Health

Stuck in a summertime slump? It might be the weather

How the heat affects everything from mood and libido, to wellbeing and creativity.
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Love or loathe summer, there’s little doubt the weather affects us all in different ways.

WATCH: Cool down tips. Article continues below video.

As the mercury climbs, most of us fall into two categories: those who live for summer, and those who’ll spend the next couple of months telling you they’re more of a winter person. Regardless of which side you fall, there’s little doubt that summer affects us all. We break down the good, the bad, and the sweltering!

Taylor Swift lying in summer sun
Taylor Swift (Credit: Instagram)

PRO: Summer boosts your mood

The warmer months can put a spring in our step, but have you ever wondered why? It’s believed that sunlight helps to increase our brain’s production of serotonin, which can boost our mood and can help us feel calm and focused.

Sunlight also provides a hit of vitamin D, which is often associated with mood regulation. However, simply feeling warm may also have a positive effect. Our skin contains sensory neurons which become increasingly activated when we’re warm, sending signals to the brain’s pleasure centres. This means that you can still get a mood boost during the colder months by grabbing a blanket or a cup of hot tea!

CON: But it can also make you cranky

At the same time, it’s possible to get too much of a good thing. Prolonged exposure to high temperatures can leave us feeling tired, overwhelmed and, frankly a little bit on the irritable side. If you’re experiencing mild symptoms, it’s probably time to take a break and drink some water. Symptoms like confusion and hallucinations can also be a sign of heat stroke – an emergency that requires immediate treatment.

Woman cooling off with desk fan in office
(Credit: Getty)

PRO: You might be more creative

Got a masterpiece you’ve been wanting to get started on? Now’s the time to pick up that paintbrush and go for it! Studies show that warm environments help to encourage creative thinking.

There’s also evidence to suggest that warm weather encourages us to be more collaborative, while turning down the thermostat helps us to stay alert during repetitive tasks.

In a German study, women performed better at maths and verbal tests when placed in a warm room, although men thrived in slightly cooler temps.

CON: You might be less productive

While warm temperatures can improve our thinking powers, extreme heat can be a productivity killer too. In a UK study, researchers discovered that workplace productivity dropped by an average of 35 per cent, once temperatures reached 35C with 50 per cent relative humidity. This increased to a 76 per cent reduction, once the mercury climbed to 40C with 70 per cent relative humidity.

Hand holding melting ice cream
(Credit: Getty)

PRO: It can fire your libido

There’s a reason why birth rates go up in September and October, and you can blame those balmy summer temperatures. Experts say that there are a few factors that power up people’s libido at this time of year, such as more time spent socialising and keeping active. Sunlight can also boost the pleasure
hormone serotonin, while decreasing our melatonin levels (which is known to block sex hormones).

Unfortunately, this only works up until a point. Once the mercury climbs too high, those warmer temps can start to zap your energy, so the last thing you want to do is work up a sweat.

CON: There’s a gender gap

While women might feel more sensitive to cold temperatures, the risk of hypothermia is similar across genders. It’s during the hotter months that we’re at a disadvantage. Research shows that women have a 15 per cent higher mortality rate in a heatwave, and the risk increases as we get older.

There may be a few factors behind this, including reduced sweat in older women, along with higher core temperatures in younger women after ovulation.

However it’s important to know that anyone can get heat stroke. Babies, young children and the elderly are particularly at risk, along with people with severe physical or mental illnesses.

Gwyneth Paltrow cooling off after exercising
Gwyneth Paltrow (Credit: Instagram)

Go with your gut

If you’ve wondered why you get a stomach ache or suddenly need to go to the toilet after working out, experts say physical activity in the heat can cause changes in our gut.

Kayla Henningsen, a dietitian and researcher at Monash University, says high temperatures can affect our blood-brain barrier – the lining that prevents toxins in our gut from entering our bloodstream.

“Hot weather can drive higher core body temperatures during exertional activity (exercise, gardening, labour intensive work) and can cause the gut to become leaky, allowing pathogenic material (such as bacteria) to move in and out of the gut from the bloodstream,” she explains. “This condition is referred to as Exercise-Induced Gastrointestinal Syndrome (EIGS).

How to manage it

Firstly, Henningson says it’s important to try maintain a healthy core temperature by minimising physical activity during the hottest part of the day. “I would advise to try to schedule physically laborious tasks such as exercise and gardening to the early morning or late afternoon when the temperatures are cooler and sun exposure is reduced,” she says.

Research by Monash University also suggests that eating carbs before exercising may help to mitigate these issues.

“If you are performing exertional activity during hotter times of the day, try to consume carbohydrate-rich food (for instance sandwiches, bananas, rice crackers) prior to the activity and regularly during the activity,” Henningson says.

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