Why are some people more sensitive to cold (weather) than others?

Hey all.
Got a little something that bothers me for a while, and maybe the Millions can help.

Why is it that while I walk outside at winter I have to wrap myself in coats and scarves and such, while others are just walking around in T-shirts as if it’s July? Why is it that while we sit at the office, some are sweating and others are freezing?
I’d like to point that I’m not referring to the old male/female differences, but rather to the difference between individuals, of the same gender if you will.
Also, on that matter, is it possible to change from the kind of person who shivers in his boots at 20 degrees Celsius, to someone who couldn’t care less about below zero temperatures? Or vice versa?
I’ve gotten a clue it has something to do with body fat percentage, but I couldn’t find any consistency there, meaning it’s not necessarily the fatter people who are more resiliant to cold weather.

I’ve always figured it’s acclimatization. I grew up where it’s fairly cold, then moved to NYC/NJ… and then moved farther south. It’s 35ish here right now… and I get cold outside. When I was used to the cold, I had no problem going outside in shorts and a tshirt if it was only 25 degrees or so.

All temps in Fahrenheit (stupid American here).

I doubt it’s all about acclimatization, like GiantRat said. I like my surroundings fairly cool and I hate hot weather, but my sister (who has been living in the exact same conditions as me) is the exact opposite.

I doubt it’s all about acclimatization as well, as the people I compare myself to grew up in conditions similar to my own. Also, I seem to recall that a person who is used to warm weather and moves to some frozen part of the world shall never get used to the cold. I have no basis for this, but I’m pretty sure I’ve heard it as a fact.

I, for one, think acclimatization plays a large part. Most Norwegians get a “chill week” when the cold weather first starts breaking. That is to say, two weeks ago when it was a pleasant 2 below (28,5F) I couldn’t do anything but huddle under three blankets with a warm-water bottle and a cuppa. Yesterday - when it was a stiff 15c below (5F) - I took long walks without thinking about it. Sure, I still get cold, but I no longer get miserable, at least.

That still allows for individual variations, of course. My gf gets immensely cold hands and cold sores, but can stand to wear skirts even in a stiff wind. I go without gloves but need a long coat to keep my thighs from freezing together.

Circulation also definitely plays a part. If I do an hour’s worth of housekeeping before I go out, or exercise, I hardly notice the temperature. But the walk down to work straight after waking up is pure hell, at first.

I grew up in Cleveland (especially on the lake, it’s much colder than its lattitude would suggest) and coped pretty well with the cold. Moved to Vegas where it rarely drops below 40f and I’ve been here for 5 years, so by now I should be acclimated to Vegas and get cold when it drops below 50 or so, right? But no, I’ve retained my cold resistance and preference for cold temperatures - I usually wear a t-shirt and shorts even if it’s 35 out, I just find them more comfortable.

I’d expect it to be down to numerous factors - acclimatisation would be one alongside physical factors like body fat, circulation, and natural body temperature, which varies widely.

Acclimatisation would include what your family’s like too - if they’re from a warmer place you learn to feel the cold more (at least, based on the people I know whose parents are from warmer places).

I grew up in the Cleveland area, like SenorBeef, and have lived here all my life, and I’m cold all the time. When it’s 80 outside, I’m just getting comfortable, and at 35 I’m wearing my parka.

But how far back does one’s family make a difference? Part of my mom’s family is from the tropics, but they’ve been here in frosty New England for over 90 years now (and these folks intermarried a whole lot with Europeans in the meanwhile), and I still feel cold quicker than a lot of other people do. On the plus side, though, I don’t feel hot until way after most people complain that the heat is oppressive.

That directly contradicts my experience in seeing people who grew up in hot/tropical parts of the world, move to Chicago, and wind up enjoying their first winter (snow! THAT’s what snow looks like!) and dealing with the cold as well as if not better than the natives. Doesn’t all apply to all tropical transplants, but I’ve known people who grew up in southern India, Haiti, and other such places who got used to the cold just fine.

It’s complicated. Body weight has something to do with, so does muscle mass and circulation (and it is true IME that men, with their greater total mass, muscle mass, and larger hearts, feel much warmer in all temperatures than women). There’s also the matter of acclimation - exposure to cold increases tolerance, often in a very short time (check out the research into ‘brown fat’). And the endocrine system and brain govern both thermoregulation and ‘feeling cold’… as I know first hand from living with my father after a brain injury which had a huge effect on these functions. He felt freezing cold even in 90 degrees for a few years, and his body temperature fluctuated inappropriately (just by a few degrees, nothing dangerous). Eventually his brain healed enough that he no longer has these problems.

I changed from someone who was chronically cold, to someone who is average, and sometimes even warmer than other people. I just changed my exercise habits and diet, gained a couple pounds, built more muscle, and cut out a lot of foods that have a poor effect on me. Now if I start feeling chilly, I know I need to eat, and I have a nice big meal full of fat and protein (I eat limited carbohydrate) and feel toasty in no time. I’ve become one of ‘those people’ who older folks ask “where is your jacket? Aren’t you freezing?”

I’m another one who grew up in the Cleveland area. I have found that I can often handle the extremes of temperature better than the ‘transition’ area. I have a dog who loves to go for a mile walk every evening, and I have no problem accommodating him in the heat of summer or the blizzards of winter. It’s the in between times that I find myself most reluctant to go out. Especially as fall becomes winter, I find the cold temperatures harder to adjust to and will sometimes deny Markie his walk, just because it’s 'too cold, too damp, too…too…too unpleasant.

But once winter has settled in with its often single digit temperatures, it is actually easier for me to bundle up and brave the weather and I often find it to be even more enjoyable than in the summer. Its quiet and tranquil and although its bone chilling cold, I have less of a problem with the weather than I do in the fall when its transitioning from warm to cold more often…

You can get used to almost anything, I think. Its just a matter of getting through that transition time…

When I worked at the UAF library I recall a book on survival that said native Alaskans could acclimatize to about a 15°F difference in temperature. [Disclaimer; there was a lot of folklore and myth about native Alaskans in that library.]

I know I’ll be flamed for this, but I’ve noticed that here in Buffalo, African-Americans generally bundle up as if it was 15 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit colder than what the temperature actually is. If it’s 50 out, you’ll see whites and Asians in light jackets or sweaters, but blacks wearing parkas and puffy coats with hoods. I’ve seen parkas and puffy coats in the 'hood with temperatures as warm as the 60s, while white Buffalonians generally won’t break out heavier winter coats until temperatures drop below the mid-20s. Even now, with temps in the mid- to high 20s, it’s a sea of North Face fleece in the 'burbs.

I’ve always heard that X%(usually in the 90s) of one’s body heat exits the top of the head. Were that so, it seems like all one would need would be a really warm hat, and maybe a windbreaker, to get through the winter. :confused:

I assume body fat has something to do with it. I knew a person who had gastric bypass and after she lost a lot of weight she complained about it being cold all the time.

Also, there has to be some genetic effects also. In Cold: Adventures in the World’s Frozen Places by Bill Streever he mentions that black people have a much higher chance of dying from hypothermia than white people when exposed to cold water.

You’ve obviously never met my sister, even thought she’s lived in Buffalo for several decades now. Caucasian, northern ancestry, even, and she’s always cold and bundled up. Has an extensive collection of down outerwear.

What African-Americans wear might also be significantly affected by fashion within their communities as well.

I spent a few years as a child on the US prairies, where it gets mighty cold in the wintertime, and as an adult am very cold-tolerant, though perhaps that could be waning as I age. In college, I was in an ice-water bath cold-tolerance study (submerge hands into ice water until you are so uncomfortable that you have to pull them out), and I made it all the way to the safety threshold and they had to terminate the experiment there.

It also may be racial to some extent, in that peoples that have historically lived in colder climates have acclimated themselves to the cold by evolution, as less cold-tolerant members die of exposure earlier in life and/or have less healthy children.

I think acclimatization plays a part but not a big one. When I lived in Chicago and moved to Florida, I was running around in a tank top and shorts when it was 50ºF (10ºC). When I moved back to Chicago it was 70ºF (21ºC) and I was wearing sweaters and long pants.

I lived in Florida and used an A/C by the time I left I never used my A/C and didn’t bother to have it fixed in the car.

My brother was like that about cold. As a family, we never really wore shoes, we were barefootin’ it all the time. But even in winter my brother would walk outside in his barefeet in the snow in January in Chicago. He was like, it don’t bother me. He wouldn’t do it all the time, but if he had to walk to the shed or the garage he didn’t care.

Of course he used to eat apples, cores and all, so he may be odd :slight_smile:

I think the right answer to this is indeed “It’s complicated.” Cold hardly bothers me at all, but most of my family doesn’t like it (I’m a fifth generation Canadian prairie dweller from northern European stock). People who come to Canada are often very uncomfortable here, and some acclimatize and some just don’t. Some fat people here are cold all the time, but I’ll agree that it is usually the skinnier people who can never seem to get warm. I think everyone has a temperature range that they are comfortable in/can adjust and acclimatize to that’s as individual as their fingerprints.