The Body Temperature Regulators Staying Warm or Keeping Cool

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This article was edited and updated on December 27, 2017.

Are you imagining it...or is it harder to stay warm when you're older?

No, you're not. As we get older, it actually gets harder to stay warm!

There are several reasons for this:

The bad news is that researchers are not sure if older people are actually colder, or if they just feel colder. Feeling cold may be, at least in part, a subjective response to the environment. (By the way, for those of us who feel the cold, this information is of no use to us!)

The good news is that an increased sensitivity to the cold does not usually pose a big health risk, or require any specialized medical treatment.

So....how does this happen?

So how does our body control its temperature? Let's learn some words first:

The hypothalamus deals with a complex set of temperature-control activities. It does the following:

For example, the middle layer of the skin stores most of the body's water. When you get warm, sweat glands are activated which brings water and salt to the surface (sweat). On the surface of the skin, the water evaporates, cooling the body and keeping the temperature in the right range.

Remember: Too hot or too cold is not good.
Heat stroke happens when the body becomes too hot.
Hypothermia occurs when the body becomes too cold.
Both can cause death if not corrected.

Extreme Cold and Extreme Heat

Hypothermia occurs when we get too cold. From the Mayo Clinic website:

"Hypothermia occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce heat, causing a dangerously low body temperature. Normal body temperature is around 37° C (98.6°F). Hypothermia occurs as your body temperature falls below 35° C (95°F). It is a medical emergency and needs immediate treatment.

"When body temperature drops, your body's organs and systems cannot work normally. If left untreated, it will lead to complete failure of your heart and respiratory system and eventually to death.

"Hypothermia is often caused by exposure to cold weather or immersion in cold water. Treatments are whatever methods can be used to warm the body back to a normal temperature."

When we are too hot, blood vessels supplying blood to the skin can swell which allows more warm blood to flow near the surface of the skin, where the heat can be lost to the air. For more information about heatstroke, the different types and the ways to take care of yourself see: Heat Injuries: Learn to Recognize the Signs.

How to Stay Warm

In the wintertime, it's not only colder outside, it's also colder inside unless you take steps to (of course) turn on the heat. Sometimes, a little extra clothing will help, too.

To stay warm during cool or cold weather (whether indoors or outdoors), try these:

If you have other ideas of how to stay warm in winter, write to me.

Other articles that might interest you:

I am a BCRPA-certified fitness instructor in Vancouver, BC. I teach four classes at the West End Community Centre in Vancouver, BC, mostly designed for the older adult. The Inevitable Disclaimer: Everything published here expresses only my opinion, based on my training and research. What you do with the information is entirely your own responsibility. I am not liable for any injury you suffer that seems to be related to anything you read here. Always consult your doctor before beginning an exercise program. For other articles, return to the table of contents.

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