Moving to another country implies a great deal of change. There is much to look forward to, such as opportunities to learn the ways of a new culture, language and cuisine. But there are also certain challenges involved, and one of these includes dealing with a different climate.
There is much research that suggests a link between the weather and states of well-being.Those living in countries where winters are warmer than average, and where summers bring in a lower than average temperature, reported higher levels of happiness. Moderate weather also enables people to spend more time outdoors, a factor that plays an important role in reduced stress and general well-being. But extreme weather is a reality in many parts of the globe. While many countries have always experienced extreme climates due to their geographical locations, there is also the looming reality of climate change and global warming that affects all parts of the world. The resulting extreme weather occurrences, apart from creating drastic changes in the natural world, also take a toll on personal health, both mental and physical.
Temperature changes not only require you to adapt your lifestyle, but can also lead to health problems in many cases. However, there are several ways to stay prepared and minimize health risks. In fact, the good news is that living overseas may actually turn out to be beneficial to your health, according to a recent survey by an international relocations company. Compared to those who had only lived in one country, those who had lived the expat life maintained that they had been enjoying better health!
Extreme temperature changes could mean either extreme heat or extreme cold. Oscillating weather changes, known to occur in many countries, can also prove to be a challenge for many expats. Here are some of the common health complications that may arise due to extreme temperature changes when living abroad, and also some useful ways of dealing with them.
Warmer weather, research has indicated, is connected to lower death rates. While many expats may not have to face any severe health complications, there are some everyday health problems that can occur due to warmer weather, especially if it’s something you are not accustomed to. Expats moving to areas such as the Middle Eastern countries, Mexico and India, among others, may need to prepare themselves for some lifestyle changes on account of the high temperatures recorded there.
Some of the health issues that may arise due to warmer weather include the following.
Migraines – Hot weather and drops in air pressure may trigger cases of debilitating head pain, including migraines. Migraine sufferers may already be aware that temperature is a major trigger for the ailment. Every degree of increase in temperature can raise the risk of migraines. The UK’s official NHS Choices website states that temperature changes may possibly be linked to the severity of migraines, rather than the risk of their occurrence. Some of the ways in which expats can protect themselves from migraine triggers include staying hydrated, avoiding direct sun exposure, maintaining a regular eating and sleeping cycle, taking adequate measures for sun protection when going outdoors and avoiding crowded places where the temperature could get even warmer.
Allergies – Warmer winters, in particular, can trigger allergies such as hay fever, and even asthma and sinusitis. Those with existing allergies may want to stock up on the appropriate medications, such as prescription antihistamines. Other ways to avoid allergy bouts include using air humidifiers, keeping the windows closed and covering the nose and mouth when outdoors.
Heat stroke – Heat stroke is one of the more severe ailments linked to hot weather. When exposed to extremely high temperatures, the body’s own temperature increases. If quick medical treatment is not provided, it could result in permanent disability, or even death in some serious cases. The best way to deal with heat stroke is to call for emergency medical help. In the meantime, steps such as assisting the individual to a shaded area and helping to reduce the body temperature through cold water immersion or sponging are helpful. Related to heat stroke, but much milder, is heat exhaustion which can occur after being exposed to high temperatures over time. Elderly expats in particular should take the necessary precautions against heat exhaustion as they may be most at risk. Precautions include drinking cool non-alcoholic beverages, resting adequately, taking cool showers or baths, remaining in air-conditioned spaces and wearing comfortable, light clothing.
Heart disease – Expats with pre-existing heart problems may need to take extra precautions when moving to places with extreme heat. Such weather can place additional stress on the heart and circulation. Some of the ways to stay heart-healthy in such conditions include drinking enough water, avoiding caffeinated and alcoholic beverages, eating cooler foods such as salads and fruits, keeping the home cool and wearing lightweight clothing. It is also important to avoid going outdoors when the sun is at its hottest. If you do need to go out, protect your body from the sun. Also avoid excess physical activity.
Other measures to protect against extreme heat
People who are more prone to heat-related illnesses include the elderly, pregnant and nursing mothers, young children and infants, and those who work outdoors. Here are some lifestyle measures that may help expats in adapting to warmer weather in their new environments.
Expats who have been through the process of acclimatizing maintain that it’s mainly a matter of getting used to it, and the duration and way in which this happens is different for everyone. One of the steps expats are prone to taking is attempting to recreate their home country environment in their new surroundings. This may not work well all the time and could delay the adjustment process. Instead, it may be a better idea to change your clothing and bedding to suit the new weather.
A hidden benefit of being exposed to hot weather could be a change in your fitness levels. Studies have shown that exercising in warmer weather may be beneficial for your heart and lungs, and may also help to burn off more fat. However, it is important to take precautions such as monitoring your hydration levels, wearing the right clothing, eating healthy snacks and listening to your body.
A useful tip when getting ready to set up home in warmer countries is to do as the locals do, such as learning about the kind of bedding they use and also the best types of foods to consume according to the seasons.
Checking the new country’s official health website is also useful as it is likely to feature health advice, health programs, forecasts of extreme weather conditions and information about the common ailments linked to weather conditions.
Extreme weather conditions can also affect overall well-being, and for expats in particular, staying connected with friends and family back home, as well as maintaining a support system in their new country, can go a long way towards facilitating the transition period.
The Nordic countries, Russia, Canada and Finland, among others, are places that may require expats to make some big lifestyle changes on account of the cold weather. Such weather can affect your health and also increase the risk of certain health conditions.
Ailments that may arise due to colder weather include the following.
Colds and flu – Relatively common, and rarely a serious concern, colds tend to occur more frequently in places with colder climates. Prevent catching a cold by getting rid of the viruses you may have contracted from touching surfaces or due to contact with others, by washing your hands regularly. To reduce the risk of reinfection, use disposable tissues.
Flu is also caused by viruses and the best measure to protect against it is to get a flu shot. Expats over the age of 65 years and those with long-term health conditions may be more at risk, and should consult their GP about getting a flu shot.
Sore throat – A common winter occurrence, sore throats can even happen when moving from a warmer environment to a colder one. One of the best ways to tackle a sore throat is to gargle with a warm saline solution.
Asthma – Expats prone to asthma bouts may need to take special care in colder climates. Remember to stay indoors when the weather is especially cold and protect the nose and mouth. It is also important to take the appropriate medications regularly.
Norovirus – This is a stomach bug that is found to be more common during the winter. It is extremely infectious and usually persists for a couple of days. Since norovirus can cause vomiting and diarrhoea, it is important to drink enough fluids to avoid dehydration.
Joint pain – Achy joints in people with arthritis is a common complaint in cold weather. Some joint pain and stiffness can be relieved through regular physical activity.
Heart attacks – Heart attacks may be more common in the winter since it is possible that the resulting increases in blood pressure can place strain on the heart. The heart also has to work overtime to regulate body heat in colder climates. Those with heart conditions can stay protected against such stress by staying warm at home. Using electric blankets or hot water bottles at night are good ways to do this. When going out, keep warm by wearing the proper clothing.
Raynaud’s phenomenon – Cold weather can trigger Raynaud’s phenomenon, a condition that causes pain and colour changes in the fingers and toes, due to poor blood circulation. Avoid caffeinated drinks and smoking, as both can trigger a severity of symptoms.
Dry skin – Like the common cold, this is another one of those conditions that most expats living in colder countries are likely to experience. To keep skin dryness to a minimum, moisturize regularly, especially after a shower. Also, instead of hot showers, have warm ones as water that is too hot can cause more dryness and discomfort.
Seasonal Affective Disorder – Winter depression, or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a condition that occurs in colder climates and can range from mild episodes of ‘feeling low’ to full-blown episodes of major depression. Common symptoms of SAD include debilitating fatigue, excessive sleepiness, weight gain, difficulty in concentration and other mental and emotional symptoms associated with depression. Ways to deal with this condition include keeping stress levels to a minimum, going outdoors when the weather is brighter and allowing more light into the home. However, more severe cases may require medication and therapy.
Other measures to protect against extreme cold
While extremely cold weather can affect health in different ways, ranging from mild to severe, lower temperatures in general can throw everyday life off balance. Here are some ways to stay healthy and comfortable when living in cold environments.
– Check the weather forecasts on radio and television bulletins for regular updates. When severe weather conditions are expected, official government websites usually feature warnings or post alerts through their official social media pages.
– While indoors, protect yourself from chilly draughts by keeping the doors and windows closed, and drawing the curtains at dusk.
– Have regular meals to keep energy levels balanced during winters, and also make sure to eat one warm meal daily. Drinking hot beverages also helps your body stay warm.
– Instead of wearing a heavy coat, it may prove more effective to dress in layers of light, warm clothing.
– Maintain regular physical activity, even if it means staying active while indoors.
– If you’ve never lived in a colder climate before, it’s likely that you have never had to use heat sources such as fireplaces. These are vital components of every home in countries that experience harsh winter weather and it’s a good idea to acquaint yourself with how to use one. Also, remember to stock up on supplies so you can keep it running during cold winters.
– Prepare your car for cold temperatures by having maintenance service done. Avoid driving on ice-covered roads and if you are out on the road, check that you have winter emergency supplies in the car before you leave.
Have you lived in a place with extreme weather conditions? How did you deal with the change in climate? Let us know in the comments!