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Chilling out in cooler weather

September 2017

Lady wrapped up in winter clothes

The weather is definitely cooling down and it is time to think about warmer clothing and ensuring our house heating is in good working order for the winter months to come.

However, on some days you can walk down a street seeing people happily shopping in t-shirts or flimsy clothes while others are well covered up. What makes us feel cold and why aren’t we all the same?

The initial feeling of cold comes from the nerves in our skin. They determine when things seem a tad chilly out there and immediately send up some signals to the brain saying we are getting cold.
The signals enter the hypothalamus brain area which is responsible for looking after many aspects in our body. When the signals indicate strong cooling of the skin, the hypothalamus will put out instructions along our nervous systems to protect the temperature in our body core by directing more warm blood there than to our skin. Keeping the vital organs inside our body warm is more important than keeping our surface skin at a comfortable temperature.

These instructions can include messages to our muscles to generate extra metabolic heat through shivering.

On top of all this, messages also arrive at the cerebral cortex. This is the section in our brain which looks after our reasoning. When it receives messages that we are getting a tad chilly, then it makes us emotionally aware that the temperature is dropping and this should motivate us to put on warmer clothes.

It really is all very clever stuff. Interestingly, feeling you are cold is not the same as actually being cold. If you jump into cold water, you will certainly notice it but because the body will react fast, you will receive more warm blood in the core areas of your body. This means your actual body might even get a little warmer than it was, although you definitely felt the chill of the water on your skin.

At the same temperature, some people may feel it is colder than others and this is not simply due to how fat or thin they are. Body fat can help to protect us but there are many other factors that come into play here as well. Conditioning has a part to play; if we are used to being indoors in the central heating, we may well find the weather that makes us shiver that feels comfortable to people who work outside most of the day.

On top of that, there has been some research and lots of views put forward on why people feel cold differently.

There is general thought that women tend to feel cold more than men and one explanation put forward for this is because men tend to have more muscle than women who tend to have more fat. Muscle generates heat while fat stores it, meaning women may be keeping the fat in say their tummies nice and cosy through heat taken in from more outer areas of their body such as their hands and feet. Women also can have more subcutaneous fat and more of the hormone oestrogen which again may affect skin temperature.

Interestingly, research at the American University of Utah found that there is a significant difference in the general temperature of men’s and women’s hands, even when in the same climate. They discovered that the average temperature of a man’s hand was around 90 degrees while the average temperature of a women’s is nearly three degrees lower, at 87.2. Therefore any drop in temperature would be noticed more by women than men.

A more recent investigation at the University of Florida discovered that some nerve cell receptors are stimulated by signals from other causes rather than temperature change. Instead they get a sensory input from hormones, proteins and some other biochemical compounds in our bodies. These can cause people to feel chilly or hot despite the outside environment being the same.

It does seem that feeling chilly is a very personal thing and the key action to take is to ensure you keep your body core warm whatever the weather or the environment. As we age, we can become more vulnerable to being cold which in extreme cases can lead to hypothermia. This can be fatal so ensuring a good body temperature year round is a very important aspect of life.

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