Scarf it up!

Seeing as the weather outside has taken a turn for the frightful, I’d like to take this opportunity to talk about something that could make those cold days and nights a little more delightful. A simple fix that can help prevent headaches, ease neck and shoulder tension, lessen your odds of catching a cold, and generally keep overall health and comfort protected during these chilly times. And the best thing about this solution? It’s cheap, flexible, and offers a chance for some personal expression in the process. So what is this magical fix that can offer so many benefits? I am, of course, talking about one of my favorite cold weather health solutions: the scarf.

How does a simple piece of fabric offer so many benefits? It’s pretty straightforward actually. Picture a person standing outside on a cold and windy day. They have their shoulders hunched up to their ears, chest folded forward, and chin pulled down in an effort to conserve warmth. They might be shaking in spite of that, jaw set as they try to keep their teeth from chattering. All of these things they are doing? They create massive amounts of muscle tension. Muscle tension that centers on the neck, jaw, shoulders, chest and upper back which in turn creates or adds to preexisting tension to those parts of the body.

This tension also narrows the blood and lymph vessels in the neck, increasing the amount of pressure needed to move the fluids contained within between the head and body, which can then worsen headaches and congestion. Congestion is especially troublesome because the longer the bacteria and viruses trapped in the head remain, the more chances is has to reproduce and become more antagonistic to the body. The reduced blood flow also means there is less opportunity for the body to address the infection using the immune cells which travel through the bloodstream, increasing the odds that they will be able to become numerous enough to create a cold or flu situation.

This tension, which can also clamp muscles down on nerves which pass through this area, can then create pain that might manifest in the arms and other parts of the body. The tight muscles in the exposed areas themselves can also be a source of incredible pain and discomfort that can contribute to headaches and other pains. Especially tension headaches which can begin in the neck or the spine and create that very specific headache that starts at the back of the head and moves it’s way up.

Wearing a scarf prevents a lot of this discomfort through two primary mechanisms. The first is that it keeps the wind and cold from directly contacting the body. When cold is applied directly to the surface of the skin, it causes the tissues at that level to tighten. This includes the skin and connective tissue as well as the muscles deeper down. The reason for this is that cold causes things to contract, so as a result there is less blood flow to those tissues which makes them more susceptible to further cold and begins a cycle of creating more and more tension the longer a person is exposed. This increased tension then further decreases the body’s ability to counteract the cold, leading to a spiral of ever-increasing discomfort. By having even a thin layer of insulation against that, the body is much better able to conserve heat.

Insulation being the key word for explaining the second part of how a scarf can help protect the body from cold and wind. Did you know that our bodies radiate enough heat to create an aura of heat around us? For example, if you are all bundled up in a warm jacket, it’s not the jacket material that is keeping you warm, it is the heat from your body being trapped by that material so that it’s close to your body and protected from the elements. Wind is especially good at pulling that away and leaving you exposed. This is why a cool breeze can feel so good on a hot day and a cold breeze can leave you feeling exhausted when you are already struggling against the elements.

By wearing a scarf, you are protecting the vulnerable tissues of the neck and shoulders and keeping that layer of warm air close to the skin. This prevents the wind and cold from being able to directly hit the surface of the body and thus allow those tissues to stay more relaxed and healthy. This means that blood and lymphatic fluid can move more easily between the neck and the head, so immune function is uncompromised, and tension stays at a minimum. At least the tension that would have been a result of temperature and climate factors. But if an individual already has lifestyle factors (exercise, work, and posture problems would be examples of this) that already affect the amount of tension they carry, keeping the climate at bay can keep things from getting exponentially worse.

So there you have it – one simple wardrobe addition that can have a huge impact on your day-to-day life and comfort. And one of the best things about scarves is that they are quite possible the most basic article of clothing ever, so feel free to embrace that freedom with different materials, colors, weights…the important thing is that it’s able to keep you warm. After that, the winter sky is the limit and no longer the enemy. Hope this advice was helpful and see you next time!