does a direct external heat source mess with your body?
November 21, 2009 11:20 AM   Subscribe

Is it bad for you to sit in front of a heater, even when its not THAT cold?

I live in the pacific north west and find that I am always cold but even when I was living on the east coast I was always cold though, so I'm not sure what that has to do with it.
Maybe I just need to move to a warmer climate, but I dont think that is going to happen any time soon.

I know there are ways of making heat in your body through yoga and other exercise, but my boyfriend says that sitting in front of a heater is actually bad for you and that it will make you colder when not in front of it.
Is this true?
Is it effecting my internal temperature regulation system, making my body dependent on external sources of heat to keep warm?
I wear lots of layers and still want the extra heat that comes from my amazing little heat dish. I love it.
posted by bdoop21 to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I live in Pacific NW too and also love any source of heat, tops among them being my plug in energy efficient radiator from my husband, who knows I am a heat seeking creature. Still going strong with no ill effects after many years of doing this.

Other recommended wonderful heat sources: heated car seats, snuggling dog and/or cats, beloved partner, those soft microfleece blankets, and fleece slippers.
posted by bearwife at 11:32 AM on November 21, 2009

Note: even if you move to a warmer climate, you could end up working in an office. Offices tend to be cold, because a lot of people wear a lot of clothing (or have larger bodies), which makes them tend to be hot -- and they often control the thermostat.
posted by amtho at 11:38 AM on November 21, 2009

Totally non-scientific, but I know when I sit directly in front of my little space heater, my skin gets crazy dry. Not that serious, but annoying.
posted by banannafish at 11:52 AM on November 21, 2009

I think it's just a more dramatic disparity, between the cool room and the warmth of the heater, so you notice it more.

I hope you have really good warm slippies. Also a hat. Those two things really make a huge difference in heat loss.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 11:55 AM on November 21, 2009

Yeah, seconding banannafish. My desk is near a drafty window, so I often have a space heater roasting my back. I notice that my neck and the back of my ears get itchy-dry and I have to lotion up in the winter.

Not a serious health risk, exactly, but annoying.
posted by rokusan at 11:56 AM on November 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

There is no logical basis behind your boyfriend's theory. In less politically correct times, we'd call this an "old wives' tale".
posted by randomstriker at 12:52 PM on November 21, 2009

Your boyfriend's theory that using a heater is making your body "dependent on external sources of heat" is mistaken, probably the result of bad analogical reasoning about addiction (dependency on, say, nicotine), immunities (germ theories about exposure) or evolution (superbugs).

In all of the aforementioned examples, there is a relationship between exposure and returns. More nicotine, less natural neurotransmitters; less exposure to germs (and hence immunities), more sickness; more exposure to antibiotics, more chance of mutations, thus antibiotics become less effective.

This isn't the case with bodies and heat, though. Being warm doesn't make your body stop 'producing' warm over time. This would be a terrible evolutionary tendency. Think about it- do people who live in tropical climates lose their ability to warm up over time?
posted by farishta at 2:34 PM on November 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

No, this is not true. It is a bit of an old wives' tale (with apologies to old wives). Bask in your heater. But your skin might dry out a bit.
posted by fifilaru at 3:05 PM on November 21, 2009

When at work, I am never far from my little space heater. Without it, I spend the day hunched over, cranky, and freezing. However, I have noticed that it dries out my skin, and I believe that when I place it very close to my feet, it causes my ankles to swell a bit.
posted by bahama mama at 4:14 PM on November 21, 2009

When you apply a direct blast of heat to your skin the capillaries in that area constrict reducing blood flow to that bit. So sometimes that heat doesn't get conducted as efficiently to the rest of your body and/or the core heat from your middle doesn't make it out to the ends so well. However this is a transient effect and doesn't change overall temperature homeostasis (so yeah, you might feel colder for a few seconds when you move away but so what?). Plus it probably doesn't matter if the heat isn't moved around your body as perfectly as it could be just as long as the bits that need to be warm are getting warm regardless of heat source.

My circulation isn't that great so I prefer to increase overall ambient temperature and wrap in a blankie rather than sit in front of a stream of hot air. My boyfriend doesn't care about the cold and just walks around in shorts a lot. I bet your boyfriend also dislikes direct heat for some reason and has generalised this to thinking it's bad for everyone. This logical jump is wrong though, different people like different things and there's nothing wrong with your enjoying a nice direct heat source. You don't like the cold because you don't like the cold not because you make an effort to stay warm.
posted by shelleycat at 4:46 PM on November 21, 2009

I'm basing my information on a college class I took a full decade ago, so no citation for you, but your boyfriend is both right and wrong:

He's right because, yes, if you are used to being warm all the time, your body will act in "warm mode" (not a real scientific term) rather than "cold mode", and yes, you will have a harder time adapting to the cold. In cold mode, your body constricts blood flow to the outer parts of your body to conserve heat. This is why you may have noticed there are times when people mention that your fingers are freezing, but you don't really feel that cold.

He's wrong because this is not a permanent change. After about a week of being cold, your body adapts and you're just fine.

There was a study done on this effect in I think Australia, where they had native aborigines and non-natives sit outside in the cold at night. The natives, who were used to the cold, sat outside in 40 degree weather with very little clothing, laughing and joking. The non-natives, used to living in houses, and bundling up, were very unhappy the first night, but were able to adapt in about a week. (Again, no citation. sorry.)
posted by kingjoeshmoe at 5:42 PM on November 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

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