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Sensation of cold: This is how you can influence it

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  • What does the feeling of cold depend on?
  • Why do some people freeze faster than others?
  • Do women get cold faster than men?
  • If a man has more muscle than another, does he feel cold less?
  • The more body fat, the later you freeze – is that true?
  • Why do you feel colder on your upper body than on your legs and arms?
  • Why do you feel cold more quickly when you’re tired?
  • Can I influence how I feel cold? What tricks can I use to freeze less?

Many people know this: you’re out and about with your friends, one of them is wearing the thin fleece jacket open and clearly feels comfortable, while you’re already freezing in your wool turtleneck under your down jacket. Here we explain why some people freeze more easily than others and what you can do to become less sensitive to cold.

What does the feeling of cold depend on?

Your body surface is covered with temperature receptors. These register the outside temperature and transmit this information to the brain via the spinal cord. When the core body temperature of around 37 degrees falls below a certain threshold, the control center in the brain starts two counter-reactions:

On the one hand, with a physical adaptation reaction. “When we experience slight hypothermia of around 32 to 35 degrees body temperature, we involuntarily change our behavior in such a way that we try to reduce our body surface area,” explains Professor Dr. Thomas Korff from the Institute of Physiology and Pathophysiology at the University of Heidelberg, “You involuntarily press your legs closer together and wrap your arms around your body in order to minimize the body’s heat radiation.”

“On the other hand, hypothermia activates the sympathetic nervous system, i.e. a part of our autonomic nervous system that becomes active when we are stressed and can constrict the blood vessels so that less warm blood escapes to the outside,” says Dr. Korff. As a result, smaller muscles located further away from the body receive less blood supply. This means that when you are cold, your fingers and toes first become cold and stiff.

“At the same time, muscle tone increases and you start to tremble in order to produce heat through the high-frequency muscle contractions,” says Dr. Korff.

Why do some people freeze faster than others?

The density and distribution of cold receptors, which detect the outside temperature and pass it on to the brain, varies for genetic reasons, which is why there are differences.

But it’s muscle mass that makes a difference. “The more muscles you have, the higher the body’s basal metabolic rate, which produces heat even when resting,” explains Dr. Korff.

By the way, this not only depends on how well trained you are, but also on your age: the older you get, the more your muscle mass decreases.

Endurance sport in cool temperatures warms you up, strengthens your immune system and trains your sensitivity to cold. That’s how it’s done:

  • Endurance for strength athletes
  • Targeted mix of endurance runs and HIIT units
  • only 2 running sessions per week necessary
  • available on every device

Do women get cold faster than men?

Yes, men generally feel cold less than women. On the one hand, this is due to men’s larger muscle mass, which means they generally have a higher basal metabolic rate and produce more body heat.

On the other hand, men’s skin is around 15 percent thicker than women’s, it insulates slightly better and releases less heat to the outside. It’s no wonder that women feel cold more often than men.

In addition, women’s metabolism works slower than men’s. This means that the female body burns fewer calories and therefore produces less heat.

A genetic advantage in women is that they generally have more subcutaneous fat. However, it is currently unclear how relevant this is for the organism’s overall heat balance.

The fact that female creatures freeze more easily than males, and that women work better in warm rooms than in cool ones, does not only apply to humans: In mammals such as birds and bats, males tend to stay in cooler places and females in warmer places. studies revealed.

If a man has more muscle than another, does he feel cold less?

Probably yes. Of course, this also depends on other factors and your daily form. “But in general, muscles have, among many other positive effects, the fact that you freeze less quickly in winter because, as I said, more body heat is produced due to the increased basal metabolic rate,” confirms Dr. Korff. If you are acutely cold, exercise can also help, as the muscle contractions produce heat.

These gadgets help against freezing and shivering:

  • Warm thermal leggings with inner fleece for indoors and outdoors
  • Electric pocket warmers that can also be used as a power bank
  • Heat insoles for shoes (can be used indoors this year)

The more body fat, the later you freeze – is that true?

Not really. “If you have a higher percentage of body fat, your skin layer is not automatically better equipped to withstand the cold,” explains Dr. Korff, “Excess body fat is a reserve of energy, not a layer of insulation.” Body fat does not produce heat and is usually located in parts of the body that cool down less quickly, such as the stomach. Sorry, so eating more to avoid freezing in winter is not an option.

Why do you feel colder on your upper body than on your legs and arms?

The upper body has significantly more temperature receptors because the vital organs such as the heart, kidneys, stomach and liver are located here and need to be particularly protected. This is why you are more sensitive to temperature on your upper body than on your legs and arms when you step into cold water.

Why do you feel cold more quickly when you’re tired?

When the body is under stress, for example the core body temperature drops, the nervous system, and especially the sympathetic nervous system, initiates measures to keep it constant. The expert: “When we haven’t slept much, its counterpart, the parasympathetic nervous system, is more active.” The parasympathetic nervous system controls the regeneration of the body so that it enters a rest mode and physical processes are put on the back burner.

The result: Countermeasures against freezing, such as the constriction of the blood vessels, are activated less strongly and the body temperature can fall more quickly. And be careful: alcohol also dilates the blood vessels.

Can I influence how I feel cold? What tricks can I use to freeze less?

First of all: “You can train to endure the cold,” says Dr. Korff, “If you go outdoors regularly, even when it’s cold, you can reduce your body’s sensitivity to cold.”

But don’t dress too warmly. “If you sweat in your down jacket and therefore open it, you will cool down more quickly due to the evaporation cold,” says the expert, “And a low body temperature weakens the immune system, so that viruses have an easier time.” Cold, flu and corona viruses can then penetrate more easily and cause illness.

The physiologist especially recommends light endurance sports outdoors: “This trains thermoregulation, makes the blood vessels more adaptable and creates new ones.” This increases cold tolerance in the long term. In addition, every additional muscle you build ensures a higher basal metabolic rate.

But regular contrast showers and sauna visits also train your blood vessels so that they can adapt more flexibly to any ambient temperature.

This winter it will also be uncomfortably cold indoors due to the energy crisis. But you can take countermeasures: with an extra round of strength training for more muscle mass, regular walks in the cold and toughening contrast showers. Get active and not only will your feeling of cold benefit, but your entire health will benefit.

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