Mastering Cold Weather: Tips for Regulating Your Body Temperature

Mastering Cold Weather: Tips for Regulating Your Body Temperature
20.01.2024
  • Thermoregulation is how the body maintains temperature.
  • The skin, sweat glands, circulatory system, and hypothalamus all play key roles in the process of thermoregulation.
  • Experts recommend consulting a healthcare professional if you find yourself unable to warm up, as there may be an underlying condition.

Worried about staying warm this winter?

Winter storms and freezing temperatures have blanketed many parts of the U.S., with widespread wind chill warnings and advisories across the Pacific Northwest, Midwest, and South.

These decreased temperatures emphasize certain winter safety practices, like maintaining a regulated body temperature.

Several factors go into how your body maintains temperature—a process known as thermoregulation, David Holmes, MD, associate program director in the Department of Family Medicine at the University at Buffalo Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

Holmes explained that certain elements—skin, sweat glands, the circulatory system, and the hypothalamus—play key roles in thermoregulation.

Elements of Thermoregulation

  • Skin: Protects internal organs from the environment
  • Sweat glands: Produce water that evaporates, creating a cooling effect on the body when it gets too hot
  • Circulatory system: Blood vessels adapt to outside temperature to best protect internal blood flow
  • Hypothalamus: The part of the brain that acts as a central control, using outside information (how cold it feels outside) to best determine what temperature the body should be (hotter or colder)

While all of these elements play a part in how the body self-regulates, it’s true that some people may feel more sensitive to the cold than others.

And, even if you don’t tend to “run cold,” everyone can benefit from some basic understanding of how to best maintain body temperature.

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Some People Are Impacted By Cold Temperatures More Than Others

There are a few factors that go into how cold you feel, including your age.

“In particular, the elderly and the very young have more trouble controlling their body temperatures and lose heat more easily,” Zaffer Qasim, MBBS, an associate professor of clinical emergency medicine at Penn Medicine.

Certain medical conditions, like hypothyroidism and diabetes, can also impact how cold you feel, Qasim explained. Even some drugs like blood pressure medications, sedatives, and psychiatric medications, can raise your risk of feeling cold.

“There’s a lot of side effects of medications that can change your metabolic rate and change how blood flows through your blood vessels,” Daniel Bachmann, MD, an emergency medicine physician at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

Additionally, having a low body fat percentage raises the odds you’ll be impacted by cold weather.

“It’s less of an insulating layer for body heat,” Tracy Zaslow, MD, a sports medicine specialist at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles and a team physician for Angel City Football Club and LA Galaxy.  

It’s worth noting that there’s a “wide range of normal” with body temperature.

While 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit is viewed as average, some people regularly run much cooler than that, Zaslow explained. If you’re one of them, you may be more likely to feel the cold when exposed to it.

Having a slower metabolism can also impact how sensitive you are to the cold.

“Some people have a higher metabolic rate—how fast or how you burn energy—and that’s how you burn heat,” Bachmann said. “That will influence your sense of being cold or warm.”

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Finally, everyone has a physiological and psychological response to the cold—meaning, how you feel the temperature and feel about it.

“The body’s interpretation of cold varies,” Zaslow said. “Some people are just more sensitive to it than others.”

How to Tell If Your Body Temperature Is Regulated

Temperature regulation is different from “running cold.”

People who run cold are more likely to want to jack up the thermostat indoors and may feel especially chilly when stepping outdoors in the winter months.

Temperature regulation is more serious. Failure to keep a normal body temperature in cold weather puts you in danger of hypothermia.

“Hypothermia is [a body temperature of] less than 95 degrees Fahrenheit,” Holmes said.

Symptoms of hypothermia can include shivering, confusion, feeling very tired, having decreased coordination and balance, and slurred speech, Holmes said.

Outside of serious conditions like hypothermia (or its opposite, hyperthermia), Zaslow explained that most people are temperature-regulated unless there’s an abnormality.

“You just may be more sensitive to external temperatures than the people around you,” she said.

What to Do If You’re Sensitive to the Cold

There are a few things you can do if you find yourself being more sensitive to cold weather.

  • Dress for the weather: Layer your clothes and wear wicking and water-resistant materials, Qasim said. While you’re at it, wear warm socks and a hat. “Wearing layers is important because the air between the layers provides added insulation,” Holmes said.
  • Keep an eye on your thermostat: “If you can, keep at least one room in the house at a temperature above 65 degrees Fahrenheit,” Qasim said.
  • Exercise regularly: This “will help increase your overall health and it generates body heat,” Holmes said. Zaslow added that it can also kickstart your metabolism and build muscle, which can make you feel warmer.
  • Drink warm beverages: “Drinking warm fluids helps to warm the inside of you, which is very helpful,” Holmes said.
  • Eat something: Your body requires energy to digest food—and that creates a small degree of heat inside your body when you eat, Holmes explained.
  • Hop in the shower: Zaslow explained that taking a hot shower or bath will create a temporary increase in your body temperature to help you warm up.
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If you feel like it’s hard to stay warm no matter what you do, Bachmann recommends checking in with your doctor. There may be an underlying reason why you’re feeling so cold that needs medical attention.

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