Why am I cold when you aren’t? – MNT

A little personal history here. Back when I first retired, 17 years ago, I got really careless about my weight and health. I ballooned up to 225 pounds from the 185 to 190 that I had carried while working. I was around 5 feet 10 inches at the time. My waistline measured between 42 and 44 inches. The only good thing about carrying that weight is that I never was bothered by the cold. I began writing this blog in March of 2010. Since that time I have taken my weight down to the 155 pound area and my waist to 31 inches. Yes, I am enjoying robust good health now. BUT, one of the aspects of my life that has changed negatively is that I am often cold. When the temp drops I freeze. I think I wear long underwear about six months a year. When I asked my doctor about this, she told me that in losing the fat, I had taken the insulation away from my core and I was now more vulnerable to cold temps. So, I was most interested in this information from Medical News Today on feeling the cold.

Winter Weather.jpeg

Gloves? Check. Hat? Check. Thermal layers? Check. But why am I the only one prepared for the onslaught of a snowstorm? The cold affects everyone differently.

With Halloween now firmly behind us, we find ourselves on the slippery slope into full-blown winter. While many of us may enjoy spending time outdoors on a crisp winter day, few people enjoy feeling cold.

Our ability to sense temperature changes is essential to our survival. Small changes to our core temperature can have detrimental effects, putting us at risk of heat stroke in the summer or hypothermia in the winter.

To retain a steady core body temperature, our bodies have developed sophisticated mechanisms to sense and respond to temperature fluctuations.

Nerves in our skin are our first line of defense. They pick up changes in temperature and pass this information to the brain.

Yet our perception of cold is very subjective. Why do some people start to shiver at the mere thought of plummeting temperatures, while others pile on the warm layers only reluctantly?

What happens when we get cold?

Once the brain has been informed of a drop in temperature, it sends signals to our blood vessels to restrict blood flow to the skin.

John Castellani, Ph.D., and Andrew Young, Ph.D. — both from the Thermal and Mountain Medicine Division of the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine in Natick, MA — explain that this process of vasoconstriction prevents further heat loss and protects the body core.

Vasoconstriction in the fingers and toes is a feeling that many are likely to be familiar with while reaching for gloves and thick socks.

On top of limiting blood flow to the skin, we start to shiver. These involuntary, rhythmic muscle contractions kick out heat to warm our bodies.

These physiological responses are hardwired into our system but vary from person to person. So, what influences how we respond to the cold?

Body shape

Size really does matter when it comes to the cold. The larger a person’s body surface area is, the more heat they lose.

This is closely tied to the size of subcutaneous adipose tissue, or the fat beneath the surface of our skin. Fat is a great insulation material. The more subcutaneous fat a person has, the better their insulation is.

The difference between how men and women respond to the cold is partly due to body shape.

Let’s take a man and a woman with the same body mass and comparable surface area. Because the woman will likely have more subcutaneous fat, she will be better insulated against the cold.

If we compare this scenario with a man and a woman with the same amount of subcutaneous fat, the woman is likely going to have a greater surface area but smaller body mass and will lose heat more quickly.

Sex and age

However, sex does have a part to play when it comes to our extremities, where vasoconstriction is more pronounced in women. In fact, there is evidence from a large study involving twins to suggest that cold fingers and toes are, in part, determined by our genes.

Fluctuations in hormones also contribute to how we feel the cold. Women’s responses to cold vary during their menstrual cycles. In men, higher testosterone levels may reduce sensitivity to the cold by desensitizing one of the main cold receptors, TRPM8, in the skin.

From around the age of 60, the ability of our bodies to conserve heat and sense the cold starts to decline.

Seniors also don’t start to shiver until the temperature is much lower, compared with their younger counterparts, and they also have trouble warming up.

How to get used to the cold

When our bodies are repeatedly exposed to cold temperatures, they eventually adjust. But we are not talking about popping outside for 5 minutes once per day while spending the rest of our time cuddled up to the heater.

Many residents living in polar regions have a less pronounced response to cold, Drs. Castellani and Young explain. They still shiver and restrict blood flow to the skin, but to a lesser degree.

There are two other ways that the body can adjust to plummeting temperatures: by increasing either metabolic heat generation or heat conservation.

How an individual will react to repeated cold is possibly down to the extent of the heat loss from the body, but there is still much that researchers don’t know about how our bodies sense and adapt to cold temperatures.

So, if you tend to feel the chill, you could try spending time outside to build up a tolerance. Or, reach for your gloves and layer up to keep the cold at bay.

However you choose to deal with the inevitable onset of winter, we hope you enjoy your time outdoors.


Filed under abdominal fat, aging, body fat, cold season, cold weather, fat

9 responses to “Why am I cold when you aren’t? – MNT

  1. Afrika Bohemian

    Thank you so much for the article, I really am one of those people who are constantly shivering, even 20 degrees Celsius weather is cold for me. I thrive in temperatures 30 degrees and above. I also have low body fat but I am a woman and much younger, but building tolerance for the cold is something I would never try :), thank goodness we only have 3 months of winter where I live and even then our winters are much warmer than most places, except for the evenings and mornings.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are welcome, fellow sufferer. And, thanks for sharing that. Despite the fact that I suffer from the cold, I prefer it to the heat. I can always add a layer and be all right. But, the heat tires me. Much harder to get my biking done when it is warm.


  2. delaydeborah

    I’m cold to and I can’t see why 

    Sent from my Galaxy Tab® A


  3. I believe the best way to limit winter’s plummeting temperatures is moving to Arizona! During Arizona’s summer, San Diego calls my name. This is an effective method to deal with WINTER! Want to add exercise to the equation…bike from Phoenix to San Diego and back. It’s only 355 miles each way. Remember to pack water!! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Having lived in a cabin in Northern Alaska for 14 years with winter temp’s ranging between -10 and -40 my body did indeed adjust to the ‘cooler’ weather, because I found that temporarily moving to Texas last year I could not step outside my place without almost passing out from the 90 degree heat. Now I am faced with the reverse in that I will be returning home next spring and be once again in the land of sub-zero temperatures after living for months at a time close to +100. Hopefully like you suggest this winter here will prepare me for a place where every breath forms ice crystals in front of you.

    Liked by 1 person

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