Why Does the Cold Bother Some People More?

This scene makes some people happy and others shudder. Mishella/Shutterstock

Most people think the average human temperature is 98.6 degrees, but the truth is that different people have different "normal" temperatures. Some people are naturally colder and some people are naturally warmer. But body temperatures don't tell the whole story.

Why We Get Cold

We generally think of certain groups of people as colder than others. For example, women are usually colder than men; an elderly person is often colder than a younger one. Older people do tend to have a lower body temperature than younger people, but there are some other explanations to consider. It could be that as we age, the walls of our blood vessels lose their elasticity, which can result in poorer circulation. If blood isn't moving throughout your body as well, your extremities tend to be colder. Another possible cause is the thinning of the fat layer underneath the skin that conserves body heat. There are underlying medical conditions that can cause you to feel cold as well, such as thyroid issues (which can leave you unable to regulate your body temperature), hypertension or even diabetes.

Differences Between Women and Men

Let's focus for a moment on why women in particular suffer from this temperature issue. Interestingly, studies have found that women's core temperatures are generally higher than men's (97.8 degrees Fahrenheit versus 97.4 degrees Fahrenheit), but their extremities are often much colder than men's. In 1998, researchers at the University of Utah discovered that the average temperature of a man's hand was 90 degrees, while the average temperature of a woman's hand was just 87.2 degrees. A whopping 3 degrees difference! It may not seem like much, but it can make a woman's hands (or feet) feel like ice to a man.

A possible explanation for the discrepancy is that women's bodies work harder to keep their vital organs warmer, taking heat away from their extremities. How do they do this? One explanation is that men tend to have more muscle and women tend to have more fat. Whereas muscle generates heat, fat stores it — keeping your tummy nice and toasty at the expense of your fingers and toes.

One group of people who can withstand cold really well? The Inuit, who live in freezing temps year round. Indeed, studies have shown that the Inuit tend to have shorter, stockier frames than people who live in other climates so that their bodies can preserve their core temperature better. Shorter limbs mean less areas in the body to which blood has to travel to keep warm.

So what can us unlucky women and old people do to keep warm in these frigid times? New research suggests we have much to learn from animals that have fur to keep them warm. Until then, I say layer up!