Why do some people like to be cold

Why we feel cold differently

When his colleagues are already putting on a jacket, Thomas Korff usually still walks around in a T-shirt. The professor at the Institute for Physiology and Pathophysiology at Heidelberg University has a simple explanation for this: As a native of Northern Hesse, he is less sensitive to the cold. Even if the difference is only a few degrees - those who live long in cool regions evidently adapt better to low temperatures.

But there are other reasons for the individual perception of cold. The density and distribution of the cold receptors in the skin, for example, are presumably genetically determined. They register the temperature on the surface of the skin and forward the information via the spinal cord to the control center in the brain. This in turn regulates the body temperature by redistributing the blood flow to the middle of the body when it is cold. Everyone freezes as soon as their core body temperature drops below a certain point. The unconscious physiological reaction is supposed to protect against hypothermia and sets behavior changes in motion. "Humans huddle together, reduce their surface area and try to produce warmth by trembling," describes physiologist Korff.

Men are actually less frozen than women for a number of reasons. "Because of the larger muscle mass, they have a higher basal metabolic rate and produce more heat," says Korff. In addition, their bodies give off less heat to the outside, partly because men's skin is thicker and better insulated.

Freezing for the offspring

But nature has also thought about women: "In order to optimally supply unborn children with blood, they conduct heat from the skin to the center of the body more quickly when it is cold," says Korff. As a result, women were more likely to have cold hands and feet.

Newborns are initially well protected from the cold. They have large amounts of brown adipose tissue that produces heat itself - but regresses over the course of childhood. "Because the ratio of body surface area and volume is less favorable in children, they cool down faster than adults," explains Korff.

Older people should also wear warm clothes: they have fewer muscles, a lower basal metabolic rate and thinner skin. As a result, they can no longer regulate their body temperature as well. Especially since they often eat too little or suffer from diseases that reduce their basal metabolic rate, such as anemia or hypothyroidism. These must then be dealt with appropriately.

Good news for chilblains

How sensitive we are to the cold also depends on our current condition. When tired, for example, the parasympathetic nervous system is activated - the part of the autonomic nervous system that controls digestion and regeneration. Everything else runs on the back burner: the blood vessels in the skin expand, the core body temperature drops. Anyone who falls asleep in the cold therefore runs the risk of freezing to death. Especially if he has drunk alcohol, which also dilates the blood vessels.

Professor Rüdiger Köhling, head of the Institute for Physiology at the University of Rostock, has good news for all frostbite: "You can practice enduring the cold." Those who regularly go outside in winter reduce the sensitivity of their cold receptors. Alternating baths, cold and warm showers or visits to the sauna would also train the blood vessels, which then adapt better to the respective conditions.

Sport also heats us up: Any kind of moderate endurance sport stimulates the circulation and increases energy consumption. The excess heat produced is released to the outside via the blood vessels of the skin, creating a pleasant feeling of warmth.

Sweating instead of drinking

Alcohol apparently has the same effect. The blood vessels expand and the receptors signal a comforting sensation of warmth, especially when consuming hard liquor. In fact, the body loses heat and cools down quickly. Hot alcoholic drinks like mulled wine and Jagertee don't make it any better. The alcohol gets into the blood even faster and the heat input is disproportionate to the heat loss.

Anyone who then opens their jacket, for example because they have sweated while skiing, cools down all the faster due to the evaporative cold and risks catching a cold. Physiologist Korff: "If the core body temperature drops too much, the immune system is less able to fight off pathogens."