April 01, 2021

Why is it that I tend to feel cold, but my husband is usually warm?

Q: I tend to feel cold, but my husband is always comfortable or even warm. It seems many women are often colder than men. Why the difference?

A: To explain why you may feel colder than your husband, it's helpful to understand how your body adapts to the cold.

Your body tries to maintain its core temperature by limiting the heat leaving your body. It can do this by narrowing blood vessels and decreasing blood flow to the surface of your body, which keeps heat near the core — this is why you can suddenly find yourself with a cold nose, hands and feet. But if that's not sufficient, your body must generate heat. Your sympathetic nervous system can turn up your cellular metabolic rate. And your body can start shivering, as these involuntary muscle contractions also produce heat.

Men and women may experience these processes differently, probably because of general differences in body composition and proportions. For example, one small experiment exposed young men and women to cold and found that women began shivering at 52 degrees Fahrenheit as compared with 49 degrees for men.

Compared with men of the same weight, women tend to have less muscle mass. Women also generally have a higher body surface area-to-mass ratio. More surface area makes it more difficult to retain heat, since heat can be lost through the skin. And a lower muscle mass limits how much heat you can generate when you are exposed to cold temperatures.

The solution to feeling chilly is often as simple as wearing extra layers of clothing, turning up the thermostat or engaging in physical activity. However, it's sometimes the case that medical conditions such as...