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The truth about rainy days and our health

The truth about rainy days and our health

The idea of bad moods in bad weather is as old as time. But now there's scientific evidence

There’s some truth to the age-old belief that achy joints are a sign that bad weather is on the way. It’s not just anecdotal: research shows a relationship between pain levels and changes in weather, particularly for people who suffer from chronic conditions such as arthritis.

“Some people with arthritis say they can predict weather, or that the weather changes their level of pain,” says Siân Bevan, chief science officer at Arthritis Society Canada.

Cloudy with a chance of pain

Researchers found correlations between pain and bad weather

The name of a 2019 U.K. study, “Cloudy With a Chance of Pain,” says it all. It analyzed the daily pain logs of 13,000 residents with arthritis, fibromyalgia, migraines and neuropathic pain. Using GPS data from participants’ smartphones, the researchers found correlations between pain and relative humidity, barometric pressure and wind speed. Participants were more likely to experience aches and pains on stormy, windy days and least likely to do so when conditions were dry and calm.

"Participants were more likely to experience aches and pains on stormy, windy days"

It’s unclear why changes in weather may influence pain severity for some people and not for others. “Everyone experiences pain differently,” says Bevan. “There are a lot of factors that could impact pain tolerance, including sleep, stress and depression.”

Under pressure

It's a good idea to track how weather affects your pain level so you can manage expectations for what you can accomplish on any given day

One common theory is that the drop in barometric pressure that usually precedes a storm causes a change in pressure within the joints, contributing to pain. (The belief is that as air pressure decreases, it allows our tissues to enlarge slightly, which irritates the joints.)

"Studies found that women are more sensitive to weather changes than men"

It’s a good idea to track your symptoms and how certain weather conditions may affect your pain levels, says Bevan. “From there you can manage expectations for what can be accomplished on days when symptoms are worse.”

A dark mood

Lack of sunlight can cause lower levels of melatonin which directly affects mood regulation

There are multiple reasons for this correlation, according to Dr. Max Pemberton, a U.K.-based psychiatrist. “Less sunlight affects your levels of melatonin, a hormone directly involved in mood regulation.”

"Less sunlight affects your levels of melatonin, a hormone directly involved in mood regulation"

Biologically, this could explain why some people feel down when there is little sun, with the extreme version of this known as seasonal affective disorder. A sun lamp may help: exposure to this type of bright light has a positive impact on melatonin and serotonin (another mood-regulating hormone).

Trapped indoors

Bad weather often means being isolated and lonely

There are also psychological and social reasons why some people feel sad or moody when it rains. For one thing, bad weather may contribute to social isolation and loneliness because we can’t go outside and do the things we enjoy with friends and family, explains Pemberton.

Once you understand how the weather impacts you physically or mentally, there are strategies you can try. For example, if you’re sensitive to cold, damp weather, a hot bath or just a warm compress could provide relief for achy joints. Regular exercise—even if it has to be indoors—is also known to improve mood and is an important part of pain control.

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