It’s getting to be that time of year where everyone is looking to get warm as the temperatures drop. Ever since moving to the tundra of Wisconsin and dealing with the winds of the lake effect, my attention to staying warm despite the cold has become hyper-focused! As the temperature outside decreases, body heat is lost more quickly and it becomes more of a challenge to maintain a normal body temperature. Luckily we have some good defensive mechanisms in place to help us stay warm when baby, it’s cold outside!
The first line of defense occurs right when we encounter colder temperatures and our body automatically redistributes blood to the torso in order to keep the vital organs warm and in working order. The blood vessels of the skin constrict minimizing the amount of blood sent to this area, which is the closest to the cold. This helps to insulate the body by keeping the heat from escaping and shunts the warm blood to the core. Another strategy the body uses to warm up is shivering. You know when your teeth begin to chatter and your body starts to shake uncontrollably? It’s all for a good reason. These rapid and rhythmic muscle contractions create heat in order to keep the body warm. The body may also recruit more muscles to shiver as the temperature drops, so it can actually become quite intense and even uncomfortable. This is an effort by the body to increase body temperature by breaking down nutrients and maintaining the feeling of warmth. In fact, shivering can increase heat production close to five times the resting metabolic rate!
So why is it that some people get cold more easily than others? Body type can explain some of the varying reactions. Taller people tend to get cold faster because a larger surface area means more heat loss. In addition, fat’s reputation as an insulating material is well deserved, so thinner people also tend to get cold quicker. It’s like a double whammy for those who are both tall and thin! For staying warm during the winter, subcutaneous fat that is layered under the skin is what keeps the heat in, not the visceral fat that collects in the abdomen. This is why inuit and other polar/cold climate peoples have evolved to be relatively short and stout.
So what’s a great way to warm up to the cold? Simply being physically active is a great way to generate heat. During exercise, heat is created as your muscles use and create energy. Typically, a muscle stores a small amount of energy within, and once this has been used, it must create additional energy to continue working. In fact, when you exercise, 80% of the total energy is converted to heat while only 20% is used for muscle contraction. Exercise is not a total gain though, because once you experience an increase in body temperature, your body will start sweating in an effort to cool down. In cold temperatures, this can become problematic as the evaporation of sweat can lead to greater rates of heat loss. This is why proper clothing that allows for wicking of moisture away from the skin while also insulating the body to keep warm is imperative for outdoor cold weather exercise.
Therefore, now that the temperatures are starting to fall, we have even more reason to get on our mats and keep moving! Wear some layers that you can shed as your body temperature rises and let LYT Yoga® loosen up whatever Old Man Winter has tightened! On that note, I’ll see you on the mat!