Exercising in the cold: with these tricks the body freezes less

GGender, age, posture, metabolism: when someone gets cold depends on many factors. While some of these are immutable, others can be affected and the body can be made more tolerant to cold. The solution is: training.

In fact, our sensitivity to cold sends itself to training camp every year anyway – because of the change of seasons. “If we have 13 or 14 degrees in April, we think it’s warm and we go out without a coat. If the temperatures drop to 13 or 14 degrees in the fall, we freeze,” explains Ralf Brandes, professor of physiology at the Goethe- university in Frankfurt, from Our body adapts in a relatively short time.

This adaptability can now also be used to feel comfortable in a less heated apartment. A longer-term increase in cold tolerance is possible through regular and ideally daily exposure, says Thomas Korff, a professor at the Institute of Physiology and Pathophysiology at the University of Heidelberg. “We see this, for example, in people who work outside. They usually move more, which is probably because they have more muscle and a higher basal metabolic rate.” They also subconsciously adjusted their behavior: “Someone who works outside a lot probably also changes his diet because an increased basal metabolism requires more calories. ”

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In general, this improves the body’s ability to perceive cold temperatures as pleasant. On the other hand, Korff advises against feeding on a protective layer of fat: white body fat is different from the actually protective subcutaneous fat. “Of course, white body fat also has an insulating effect, but only where it is.”

However, there is also brown fat, which was long thought to occur only in infants. Instead, adults also have this type of adipose tissue, which acts like the body’s own heating system – albeit usually only in small amounts. Babies, who do not yet have enough muscle to generate sufficient heat and are much more sensitive to cold, need brown fat to maintain their core temperature.

Studies show that cold stimuli can increase the proportion of brown, warming fat in adults. However, research into this is not yet mature, explains Korff. It’s clear that even small behavioral changes can make a difference to being less sensitive to the cold: “It can help not to drive all the way to the office in the car, but to walk the last kilometer or immediately take a bike. Who If you If you want to challenge yourself more, you can gradually get used to contrast showers over a longer period, says the physiologist.According to a Dutch study, these not only make you stronger, but they also seem to have a positive effect on the immune system.

Body strives for 37 degrees

But every adaptation has its limits – also because much of the perception of cold depends on factors that cannot be changed. 37 degrees: This is approximately the core temperature that our body wants to maintain at all costs. Receptors on our skin continuously measure whether the temperature of our environment deviates from this. When it is cold, we unconsciously make ourselves smaller in order to reduce our surface area and thus give off less heat.

When the cold persists, our vegetative nervous system – more precisely: the sympathetic nervous system – springs into action. It begins to constrict blood vessels in the periphery, such as in the hands or feet. A process called centralization. The blood is channeled from the outside to the inside. When we start to vibrate, the body tries to produce heat.

These reactions to the common cold are the same for most people — but the point at which they start is not. “There are very large individual differences in sensitivity to cold,” says Ralf Brandes of Goethe University in Frankfurt. There are also differences between body regions: “Anyone who goes into cold water will find that the legs are less sensitive to cold than the stomach,” says Brandes, who is also secretary general of the German Physiological Society.

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Women often tend to freeze. “Men, on the other hand, tend to have a higher proportion of muscle mass, thicker skin and a better surface-to-volume ratio,” explains Thomas Korff of the University of Heidelberg. Age also plays a role. “Young adults usually cope best with low temperatures because they have a higher basal metabolic rate.”

The basal metabolic rate describes how much energy a person basically produces during the day – a process that is often reduced in older people because they have less muscle mass on average, explains the physiologist. “A higher proportion of muscle means that more heat is produced in the body.”

Another factor may be certain genes. A research team led by Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet found that every fifth person worldwide is missing the protein α-actinin-3 in muscle fibers. Such a deficiency improves cold tolerance. The scientists suspect that the gene mutation likely conferred an evolutionary advantage when humans migrated from Africa to Europe more than 50,000 years ago.

Despite all the adaptability, the temperature experience remains very individual, emphasizes Korff – and refers in this regard to the new energy-saving regulation, under which many offices may only be heated to 19 degrees since 1 October: “There are people who get stiff fingers at such temperatures. centralization and they are less able to type, while others lose their attention, all at the expense of performance.” Korff criticizes that blanket regulations like this don’t take into account individual sensitivity to heat and cold, “So from a physiological standpoint, they’re bullshit.”

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