cold tolerance – some variables


07/03/2011 by Carl Reynolds

Been reading various papers on line about cold acclimatisation. It seems there is a consensus about a few things –

  • You can acclimatise to cold by regular exposure. This means that you both get used to it by changing your mental attitude to being cold, but also that your physiology changes. You activate your brown fat reserves.
  • Brown fat is found in plentiful amounts in babies. For various reasons they shiver less, so need something else to keep them warm. Brown fat activates and burns calories to generate heat. It was thought that adults lost their brown fat, but apparently we have reserves in our upper bodies and neck. Which are activated by cold exposure.
  • Insulation works. Having some other fat helps to keep you insulated, but…
  • Keeping fit. The fitter you are the better you system works – especially by thermogenesis. The body both generates and loses heat.
  • As you acclimatise you tolerate lower temperatures and so start to shiver at lower temperatures.
  • Surface area to mass matters. Stockier people with relatively shorter legs and arms get colder less quickly.
  • You can get too cold and die. It’s called critical hypothermia. If you’re shivering, you’re not hypothermic.

It seems the ideal combination is to exercise in a progressively colder environment, be relatively fit, be a short-arse and have some body fat. Kind of reminds me of the body shapes on view at Dover Harbour beach each year! The other important thing to remember is that these are variables and one size doesn’t fit all. Thankfully.

One thought on “cold tolerance – some variables

  1. Alex says:

    All sorts of theories then it comes down to the fact shorter stockier types have a smaller surface area to mass ratio. Although there is acclimatisation involved I think it’s the mental attitude that’s most important.
    I’m not that stocky and have the arms of a gibbon, this gives me more speed. Yesterday I did six lengths in just about the same time as Vince did four.

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