Depending on where you live, you may have already experienced some of the coldest days of the season. It might not be snowing here in Tampa, but we do feel the cold breeze yet. If you don’t feel the cold temperatures yet, don’t worry – the winter hasn’t even started!
Now, as you prepare your coat and find ways to keep your body warm, you may also notice that you are wearing more layers than your children or perhaps more than you did years ago. The question is, why do we appear to become colder as we age? Dr. Kevin Most, Chief Medical Officer at Northwestern Medicine’s Central DuPage Hospital, explains why.
Why do we feel colder as we age?
“As we age, our skin becomes thinner and loses heat more easily,” Most explained, adding that we lose fat and muscle mass as we age. “So that senior who’s wearing the sweater, there’s reasons for it,” he went on to say. “As you age, know that [feeling colder is] a normal part of aging.”
Decreased Metabolic Rate
Metabolism refers to the body’s process of converting food into energy. As people age, there is a tendency for the metabolic rate to decline. Since heat production contributes to maintaining a comfortable internal temperature, a lower metabolic rate can result in a heightened sensitivity to cold.
Reduced Muscle Mass
Another reason is reduced muscle mass. Muscle tissue generates heat when it contracts, a process known as thermogenesis. With aging, individuals often experience a loss of muscle mass, a condition called sarcopenia. As the amount of muscle decreases, so does the potential for heat production.
“As much as you can, try to keep your muscle mass up, because we know that as we use muscles, that generates heat, and again, it’ll keep us warm,” Most said. He recommends light weightlifting and walking and avoiding a sedentary lifestyle.
Thinning of the Skin
With age, the skin undergoes natural changes, including a reduction in thickness. Thinner skin provides less insulation against the external environment, making it easier for individuals to lose heat to the surroundings and perceive cold more readily. Know more about how to take care of skin during aging here.
Hormonal fluctuations, particularly the decline in estrogen levels during menopause in women, can also affect thermoregulation. Estrogen helps in maintaining blood flow and regulating body temperature. With this, reduced estrogen levels can result in vasomotor instability, contributing to sensations of cold or hot flashes.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, major temperature changes occur when we reach our 70s and 80s. If you have previously experienced temperature intolerances, this could be a sign of a medical problem such as thyroid disease or neurodegenerative disease.
If you think you’re feeling colder in an earlier age, we always recommend to consult your physician.