The Body Temperature Regulators Staying Warm or Keeping Cool

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This article was edited and updated on December 22, 2021.

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

(Photo by Bob Ingraham)

No, you're not. As we get older, it actually gets harder to stay warm! In the photo at left, I am taking one of my earliest outings in an Ottawa winter. It was very cold!

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, but be aware that being cold all the time may be an indication of an underlying health issue, including these conditions: does this happen?

So how does our body control its temperature?

Here are the parts of our body that help to regulate temperature:

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

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."

Long before hypothermia sets in, there are many things one can do to stay warm when it's cold outside.

Skin that has been previously injured, such as by frostbite, may remain sensitive to cold even after the injury has healed.

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.

Whether you are cold because the outside temperature is cold, or whether you suffer from cold intolerance as a result of a medical condition, here are some ways that you can stay warm:

Extreme Heat

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.

As cimate change increasingly affects our planet, many people around the world are enduring hotter temperatures, particularly in the summer.

How to Stay Cool

Most of us sweat on a hot day just working around the house or taking a walk. And most of us sweat during fitness class — some more than others.

Here's what you need to know about sweating:

There is a big difference between a healthy sweat and a body that's overheated, so remember these two points:
* If your body reaches too high a temperature you can experience cramping, nausea and lose consciousness.
* If you STOP sweating, you may be overheating and heading for heat stroke, a very serious condition.

Remember these three simple rules about exercising in hot weather:

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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