What Happens To Your Body When You’re Cold

December 8, 2017  |  
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Gettyimages.com/Cheerful woman on patio against cityscape

If you don’t quite live in a place that gets severe winters, you might just try to tough it out on the rare occasion your city gets cold. You don’t feel like investing in an insulated coat when it’s only chilly two weeks out of the year. You certainly don’t see a point in installing a thermostat (you just use your little space heaters when things get dire). And you might even walk your dog in flip flops during light rain (sound familiar?) But you should take the cold seriously, even if it’s mostly temperate in your area. When you feel cold, that’s your body telling you something is wrong, and once your body starts communicating physical discomfort to you, it starts to do a lot of other things if you don’t listen. Here is what happens to your body when it’s cold.


You need to pee

When your skin tells your brain that it’s cold outside, your brain restricts your blood vessels so you don’t lose heat through your skin. But that restriction can cause some fluid retention, which is why you need to urinate so much when it’s cold.

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Your hands and feet get cold

Since your body is redirecting fluid and blood flow to your core, you’ll notice your hands and feet become very cold—even blue and purple. That’s part of the reason wearing thick socks and mittens is especially important when it’s cold out.

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Your muscles contract

You experience this sensation as shivering. But that’s just your brain telling your muscles that you aren’t producing enough heat. When your muscles contract, they create heat, and you shiver.

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You can jump around

Some people have figured out that the muscle contractions are just a way of your body to produce movement that then produces heat. Think about it: don’t you get hot when you exercise? So you can also stay warm by jumping up and down.

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You nip out

Why do your nipples stick out when it gets cold? Because muscles are contracting everywhere, including on your areolas, which make your nipples stick out.

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It’s worse when you’re wet

Have you ever noticed how cold you are when you step out of the shower, even if it’s warm in the bathroom? That’s because water transports heat away from your body rapidly.

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Your hair sticks up

You experience this as goosebumps, but it’s actually your hair that is trying to help you. This is a leftover biological reaction from our cavemen ancestors. They had much thicker hair than we do, and it would puff up when they were cold to create a nice insulating layer.

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Don’t warm up with whiskey

It’s a common myth that drinking alcohol can keep you warm. But actually, alcohol causes your blood vessels to do the opposite of what you need them to do when you’re cold (constrict) and directs heat right off your skin.

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Over-bundling can be an issue

Our tendency, when it’s cold, is to layer. But if you get too warm when it’s cold out, this can actually make you ultimately colder. Sweat is, essentially, your body’s way of releasing heat. So you don’t want to sweat when it’s cold.


You get tired

Cold weather tends to coincide with shorter days and less sunlight. When your body senses shorter days, it produces more melatonin, thinking it’s time to go to bed the moment the sun sets. Of course in some places, that could be just 5pm.


You ball up

Have you noticed that when you’re shivering, you start to hunch, hold your arms close, and make your body smaller? That’s your instincts telling you to reduce the amount of skin exposed to the air, so you lose less heat to the environment.

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Your man’s member shrinks

When men claim their junk looks tiny because they just got out of the pool, they aren’t lying. Their genitalia is trying to reduce its surface area, too, to conserve heat for the important organs inside of it.



You get confused

If you ever watch an outdoor show in which rescue teams retrieve lost hunters in the snow, you’ll notice those hunters are a bit disoriented. That’s because when it is so cold out that your body’s usual practices of heating you up aren’t working, your brain gets all turned around.

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You may lose your vision

Only temporarily, but that’s still scary. When your body goes into hypothermia, it makes every part of your body’s blood vessels—including your eyeballs—constrict.

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Frostbite is a condition by which not just your skin, but also the tissue beneath it, freezes. Frostbite can occur within just 20 minutes if your skin is exposed to temperatures of negative 18 or lower. If frostbite is severe, you may need to have that portion of your body (often hands or feet) removed.

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