Baby, it's cold outside. And inside.
November 29, 2009 6:00 PM   Subscribe

How can I improve my tolerance for cold? (Cold weather, cold hands, etc.)

I'm cold in almost every restaurant I go to. I'm cold at work in an office building that others are comfortable in. I live in New England and dread the winter. I recoil when my boyfriend touches me with even slightly cold hands. I swear I feel even the slightest breezes or drafts.

Sure, there are plenty of ways to warm up temporarily, but I would like to improve my overall tolerance for cold temperatures so I'm not as cranky about being cold. I would like to feel like a normal person who doesn't need to wear a jacket in a restaurant or fingerless gloves at work.

(Btw, I don't believe there's a medical problem such as poor circulation behind my issues with cold.)

Are there any tricks for improving one's tolerance for cold? (Or even for temperatures that others seem to find comfortable?)
posted by dayintoday to Health & Fitness (44 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Long underwear.
posted by availablelight at 6:12 PM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seriously seconding long underwear. I had no idea how much it would improve my life.
posted by unknowncommand at 6:15 PM on November 29, 2009

How is your tolerance for stale air? If you can turn your annoyance in that direction, it might help you think of cooler air as being evidence of circulation.

(And I'll add wool socks to the recommended wardrobe list. Put them on before anything else in the morning, while your feet are still warm.)
posted by gnomeloaf at 6:17 PM on November 29, 2009

Long underwear.

I think the OP is interested in tricks that would allow him or her to avoid this — simply being able to feel less cold in a room of a certain temperature wearing the same things as other people, or being less bothered by the cold sensations (whichever it is that is different between this person and most other people, I guess) — rather than discovering more tricks to become warmer.
posted by floam at 6:17 PM on November 29, 2009

Wool socks. Also, taking showers with cooler temps and washing your hands without using hot water.
posted by furtive at 6:18 PM on November 29, 2009

I think the OP is interested in tricks that would allow him or her to avoid this — simply being able to feel less cold in a room of a certain temperature wearing the same things as other people, or being less bothered by the cold sensations (whichever it is that is different between this person and most other people, I guess) — rather than discovering more tricks to become warmer.

I'll expand my thought behind that answer, then: I have had the OP's problem my whole life (only partly mitigated by treatment for borderline hypothyroidism). The only trick I've found that works is wearing clothing that brings me up to a comfortable temperature. (Physical activity helps, but the benefit ends shortly after all that moving around stops.)

Silk long underwear is not bulky, and breathable. Hats work too.
posted by availablelight at 6:21 PM on November 29, 2009

I have the same problem at work, and I found that constantly drinking hot tea or even just hot water makes a noticeable difference. Simply having the warm mug in my hands is also nice.
posted by soleiluna at 6:28 PM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Gain weight. Nature's long underwear!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:28 PM on November 29, 2009 [6 favorites]

I have the same problem. I HATE feeling cold but my boyfriend prefers to feel like he's living in a tent in the Arctic. When you've done all you can about the problem like bundle yourself up, there's nothing more you can do except try not to think about it. Change the subject in your brain. Think about something else.
posted by amethysts at 6:30 PM on November 29, 2009

Lightweight silk long underwear worked for me in colder climes, also cashmere. Don't assume that others are not wearing another layer, one that is not noticeable. Plus I think some people are just more sensitive to cold than others, but have no scientific proof of this.

You could also work on relaxing when you feel cold, imagine it just flowing through you, it works for me sometimes.
posted by mareli at 6:33 PM on November 29, 2009

I don't believe there's a medical problem such as poor circulation behind my issues with cold.

You sure? Not exercising, smoking, and a sedentary lifestyle all contribute to poor circulation in a certain way.

As for directly answering your question, I can only suggest tea, and lots of it.
posted by Muffpub at 6:36 PM on November 29, 2009

I'll second both the long underwear and the wool socks. My take: I've done a bit of winter (in Minnesota spring and fall counts too) camping and I am convinced that the difference between those that can handle cold weather camping and those that can't is simple: if you wear enough of the right clothes, you stay much warmer. I'll recommend synthetic silk long underwear. It's fairly sheer, form fitting, and works well. You won't have to adjust your clothing habits at all, usually. Wool socks tend to make me overheat if I wear them indoors. You may like this.

Also, go camping when it's cold. For the next week, everything indoors will seem stuffy.
posted by norm at 6:39 PM on November 29, 2009

Thanks for all of the answers so far! At first I was dismissive of long underwear (I don't want to look or feel like I'm straight out of an LL Bean catalog... had no idea there were thin, silk options), but maybe it's worth a shot!

Muffpub, I exercise, I don't smoke, and I'm not particularly sedentary. I've also had loads of medical workups in recent years that never suggested a circulatory or other issue that would contribute to the coldness. I just dislike cold.
posted by dayintoday at 6:44 PM on November 29, 2009

Fat people get cold too, unfortunately.

Just throwing this out there: I know you said you don't think there is an underlying health problem, but I have your same problem and constantly had Thermo-Wars with housemates until I was diagnosed with a slightly underactive thyroid. Hypersensitivity to cold is one main symptom, but usually accompanied by loss of energy and weight gain. Worth asking for a thyroid panel next time you get a blood test.

I've always dealt with it by rocking cute scarves and hats for all occasions (you lose 40% of your body heat through your head!), using those hand-warming thingies in my pockets, lots of coffee, and whining. The whining doesn't help but at least it generates hot air.
posted by Juicy Avenger at 6:47 PM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Thanks Juicy Avenger! I actually had a thyroid panel about a year ago and all is well there.

I think I better start learning to like wearing hats...

The whining doesn't help but at least it generates hot air. Ha! My boyfriend would agree!
posted by dayintoday at 6:53 PM on November 29, 2009

I know when I smoke plenty of cigarettes my tolerance to cold worsens, the circulation to my hand gets worse and I feel it there first. Also when I don't get much sleep it worsens.
posted by Bacillus at 6:59 PM on November 29, 2009

nthing long underwear. also, just managing layers helps a lot, too.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 7:04 PM on November 29, 2009

OK, question for the long underwear folks... what do you do in the summer?
posted by dayintoday at 7:15 PM on November 29, 2009

The silky long underwear is great not only because it is thin, but because it lets the rest of your clothes glide right over it. Your jeans don't stick to it, your sweater doesn't get all static-attached to your shirt, etc. There are plenty of thin long underwear versions out there, but I have found the silk (or synthetic silk) is far superior because of this.

Some people like Cuddle Duds, which I've never tried. I usually just get MEC or REI brand silks. Get two pairs - one to wash and one to wear. Tuck them into long warm socks like SmartWool or ski socks. Seriously, I'm always freezing and this technique was like a revelation in comfort.

And yeah, fingerless gloves in overly cold office environments are sometimes the only cure. Warm them frequently in warm water or by holding a cup of hot tea. Also, do stretches and little jumping jacks - helps keep the blood flowing.

Also, keep a pashmina or other wrap with you at all times. That simple layer of fabric around the back of your neck and upper shoulders is often a welcome addition.

Finally: spices!
posted by barnone at 7:18 PM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Clothing adjustments make a huge, huge difference. (All this clothing can be fashionable, don't think it has to be frumpy.)

Layers, including silk (even thin wool blend) long underwear
Neck/sternum coverage: Silk scarves that you wear indoors, turtlenecks, etc
Wool socks - Smartwool makes ones that are thin but warm
Wool, alpaca, mohair, etc sweaters - cotton or acrylic is not nearly as warm
Outdoors: hats, and mittens rather than gloves

Slippers at home, rather than bare/sock feet
Warm sheets - eg flannel or high thread-count sheets that feel warm, rather than cool-feeling slick percale
Take a hot shower or bath to "reset" your internal temperature
Eat enough protein
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:22 PM on November 29, 2009

I try to avoid sitting under vents in buildings, it makes a bigger difference than you'd think.

I wear long underwear on the coldest days, but I find when I get inside I actually get hot (but I also wear long, wool peacoats in the winter. Another good investment.) and I find it annoying that I have to strip off another layer to go to the restroom, so I often wear legwarmers under my pants and long boots.

If I make something in the oven at home, I'll leave the door ajar after I turn it off so the extra heat goes to good use.

To deal with winter psychologically, I use a full-spectrum lightbox. Listening to Bob Marley and pretending that you're on a tropical island also helps.
posted by deinemutti at 7:22 PM on November 29, 2009

I get cold all the time too; I think it's genetic because my mom's the same way and we are both healthy and active people. Starting in early November or so, I wear tank tops every day. I usually wear these from the Gap, which fit closely enough that I can easily wear them under other things and it keeps me warmer without adding any bulk. I add varying amounts of layers depending on how cold it is; as it gets really cold I switch to silk tanks or long sleeve undershirts. You really want a couple sets of those! They will make a huge difference. The tanktops are easy to wear in the summer under your t-shirts or blouses, too, and if you wear pretty or contrasting colors it looks more like a fashion choice.

I have lots of big, pretty scarves and wear them all the time. Having my neck covered really helps me feel warmer, and you can pull them up over your ears too. I always have a cardigan or sweatshirt with me/at my desk in case I get cold, especially in the summer when the AC is cranked. Sometimes I keep a big shawl at my desk to wrap my legs/lower half in, and a vest or second sweater for my top half. Fleece vests are great too, they are super warm and easy to toss on top of whatever you're wearing. I hate hats and will only wear them when the temp is below 25deg or if I'm absolutely freezing, so I make sure my coats and sweatshirts have hoods. I wear really warm socks or two layers of those cheap trouser socks. At home I wear fleece-lined slippers. I drink tea or coffee all day.

Another thing that helps me is knee-high leather boots under my pants. Not snow boots (although I wear those too, when it's really cold!) but something like this that I can wear all day and that's more fashionable/easier to walk in than my huge fleece-lined snow boots. I am SO much warmer around the office wearing those than when I wear flats or sneakers!

I also live in New England and my typical winter outfit might be: silk or cotton tank top, 1-3 long sleeve cotton shirts or a silk long underwear shirt and a t-shirt or long sleeve t, wool sweater, scarf, lined wool pants or jeans and silk long underwear, super warm socks or two layers of socks, and knee-high leather boots or snow boots, plus a fleece vest, down knee-length coat, warm mittens when I go outside. I just make sure all the clothing layers are fitted, so it looks a lot less bulky than it sounds!

Also, never underestimate how awesome little space heaters are. Having one under my desk has been the only thing that kept me warm in some really cold offices. I have been known to use heating pads, hot water bottles, laptops, and accommodating cats, as well.
posted by min at 7:47 PM on November 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

OK, question for the long underwear folks... what do you do in the summer?

Easily-removed, breathable thin layers. (Cardigans, camis, layered tee's, etc.) Socks always.
posted by availablelight at 7:48 PM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Another thing that helps me is knee-high leather boots under my pants.

Ooh, seconding this! One of my favorite tricks. I get accused of dressing up, but tell folks it's the warmest option out leather socks!
posted by availablelight at 7:50 PM on November 29, 2009

I like LobsterMitten's suggestion of slippers, but get shearling slippers. LL Bean, where I get mine, have lots of options, but other places will have them, too.

Use a heating pad whenever you're sitting down (at your desk, watching TV, on the internet, whatever). You can sit on it, lean it against your lower back, or wrap it around your tummy.

Get an electric mattress pad for your bed, or use a hot water bottle to warm the sheets before you get in it.

As a big fan of long underwear from about October to April (I'm in NYC), I don't wear it in the summer, but I do carry a light cardigan with me to help deal with the 30 degree temperature differential between outdoors and air conditioning. Silk slips help under dresses, but they can be hard to find.
posted by Lycaste at 7:56 PM on November 29, 2009

I grew up in the deep south where it would only snow once every three years and all the toilet paper and bottled water sold out the second a flurry appeared. Now I live in Pennsylvania by way of DC and I now regard temperatures I once thought of as frigid (such as 45 degrees Fahrenheit) as practically balmy.

It is my pride and frugality that keeps me warm. I live in an old house that is expensive to heat and wear nice clothes that aren't always practical in cold weather (I haven't worn pants since March). I'm vain and I'll wear my favorite dress if I want to.

By dealing with colder conditions than I ever endured in Georgia, some sort of hardiness mentality kicked in. I could suddenly tolerate much more and for longer than I imagined, like the way old Russian men can tolerate jumping into icy lakes. They're inured to the cold.

So, specifically, I wear skirts in blizzards, I keep the thermostat at 60 degrees during the day, I run outside to take care of my pets in shorts on cold days.

I'm still a big baby compared to my cold-impervious viking husband. I still love my down comforter and boots, but I no longer shiver when it's in the 40s and I am capable of leaving the space heater off (sometimes).
posted by Alison at 8:00 PM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've never personally tried this (it takes 54 treatments?!?) but have always been curious about this treatment to help with Reynaud's//training your hands to better tolerate the cold . . .
posted by oldtimey at 8:02 PM on November 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

People have given you good advice. I moved back to New England after ten years on the West Coast. I found that in addition to having gained some weight [total best insulator ever] there were a few things that helped that I wouldn't have expected. There's clothing, behavior and gadgetry

Clothing - as everyone said get some silk long underwear. Also consider a silk scarf to wear whenever [or pashmina, something nice], growing your hair long, wearing a hat, getting plastic instead of metal eyeglasses [seriously, every little bit helps]. Think about where you're getting chilly and why. Wool [or smartwool] socks are great, as are some nice shearling slippers around the house. Keep in mind that just because shoes are made to be worn year round doesn't mean they're warm. Also find some good hats & wear them when you're places you don't care so much about fashion. Think layers, think wool.

Behavior - don't let yourself sit around getting cold because then you'll get so cold you can't warm up easily. Keep your furnace stoked [i.e. eat things that have protein and fats, just a ltitle can help] and keep warm drinks nearby for your hands. If you DO get cold take a hot shower or a bath and then suit up again. Sit in places with fewer drafts. Have forced air heat? That's going to be a constant problem, think about a radiant floor heater to be near your feet. Use a footstool to keep your feet off the floor.

Gadgets - caulk and plastic up drafts at home, get electric sheets [aka a mattress pad warmer] and turn them on before you get into bed, turn them off when you're in bed. Sit near a computer. Have a high backed chair. Sit near a sunny window.

I find that I'm cold a lot, but just making small adjustments like wearing a silk scarf or making sure I'm wearing warm shoes not just any old shoes can make a huge difference. Also excercise keeps me warmer longer, might work for you. Good luck.
posted by jessamyn at 8:15 PM on November 29, 2009

For me: eat more. Seems like my metabolism revs up a little to get rid of the excess when I eat smaller meals, but more often, before I feel hungry. On streaks where I feel too lazy to make myself something to eat that often, I definitely notice that I feel generally colder all the time.

I'm one of those "couldn't gain weight if all I ate was pie" people, though. YMMV.
posted by ctmf at 8:16 PM on November 29, 2009

Again with the long underwear: campmor has good cheap silk long underwear. I no longer hate winter. (Well, apart from the darkness...)

I bought $100 worth of this stuff in an online buying spree one evening two years ago when I could. not. get. warm. Eventually I realized that I was so cold because I had a fever, a short-lived side effect of the flu shot I'd gotten earlier in the day. By then, the damage was done. But I haven't for a minute regretted my purchase: I love love love my silk long underthings!
posted by wyzewoman at 8:25 PM on November 29, 2009

This has sort of been mentioned above but avoid cotton. Cotton will always make you feel cold, especially if there is even a small amount of humidity in the air. Some people never believe me but cotton really does make you colder. If you wear jeans wear long underwear under them and avoid cotton tops and underwear. Most synthetics, silk, and wool will be warmer. Personally, I think wool is best, sheep know what they're doing. If you find it itchy try some merino wool or cashmere. Check out Sierra Trading Post for silky non-LL Bean type garments that will keep you warm.
posted by Procloeon at 8:28 PM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Someone who lived in the Arctic recommended eating blubber.
In an office, I will get up and climb stairs for a few minutes. Nice thinking break and as much heat as is desired can be generated.
posted by llc at 8:34 PM on November 29, 2009

I grew up in New England, and I would often go out with one or two (ok, three) items less than most people around me in winter and still be comfortable. I'd be wearing jeans and a windbreaker + sweater on days where other people had their parkas and snow pants.

Feeling cold seems to happen well before shivering and hypothermia.

So I think it's a question of perception and attention.

I would suggest scheduling times where you go out with one level less clothing than normal (ex: short sleeves instead of long) and doing something you enjoy. You may find that after a few sessions, you are more tolerant to the feeling of cold.
posted by zippy at 11:45 PM on November 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

I recommend Winter Silks for silk long underwear.
posted by sulaine at 6:03 AM on November 30, 2009

Well, I'm one of the aforementioned viking type guys, but growing up in Maine it always seemed to work like that little trick for cold water. Jump in, get out and see you're even colder, and then jump in again and tada, it's warm water!

I think it has something to do with acclimating to the new temps just like people have to acclimate to higher altitudes. It takes time for the body to tune it's metabolism to deal with the colder temps and in turn change nutritional needs. If you're constantly tricking it into thinking it's warmer than it actually is then you won't acclimate.

As an example, I wear long sleeve shirts all year but roll up the sleeves for the summer. When fall hits the sleeves stay down. I'm good there till about 42F and then need a sweater. Once we hit the lower 30s or high 20s it's jacket territory, but I nix sweaters and jackets once inside and for short skips between buildings. It's not worth the effort and hassle of remembering the things, or sweating, for that 30 seconds when you can just hold your breath to keep the warm inside air in you... and that probably keeps my body in check with outside temps. The second I get back inside 68F is really freaking toasty!

Having said that, I'm well known for running extremely hot especially just after meals. You can tell how low my blood sugar is based on the temp of my fingers. So I try to eat often throughout the day to keep that up... and run as exercise to keep my weight down. You might look for natural vasodilators if things don't work as clearly as that with you. Just be mindful of the problem with Alpine environments and alcohol. It's a vasodilator so if you don't get inside soon or have a bite to eat you'll "bleed" out all your heat and get hypothermia!
posted by jwells at 6:26 AM on November 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

A hat keeps a lot of heat from escaping.

It seems like you are asking about how to look good/cute/fashionable while staying warm, so a few other tips:
Get a hat that flatters your face shape. There is not one hat that works for everyone.

Lots of people wear jackets in restaurants -- but they wear jackets that are not outerwear, and don't look like they are going outdoors. Suit jackets, cardigans, and there are a lot of variations on these looks for women that look less formal. I see a lot of these in catalogs for Coldwater Creek and Chico's. Over this you will wear a coat when you go outside.

Instead of fingerless gloves, armwarmers look much more like a fashion statement.
posted by yohko at 7:01 AM on November 30, 2009

Not mentioned yet - you can buy slippers with microwavable inserts. I love mine to death. I've been known to bring microwavable heat pads to work too. Also n-thing scarves indoors and lots of hot drinks.
posted by kitcat at 10:33 AM on November 30, 2009

There seems to be two different types of answers to this type of question. One line of response is to suggest ways that the person could keep warm. There are some good suggestions here for that. The other line of response is to suggest ways that the person can acclimate themselves to the cold. I think that the most effective way to approach things would be to combine the two.

In my experience, people who constantly have problems with feeling cold who just try to dress warmly and keep their house warm have much worse problems with being cold in places where they don't have control over the climate.
posted by jefeweiss at 11:40 AM on November 30, 2009

I've always had extremely bad circulation, despite working out consistently, eating normal (maybe not as much red meat as most people) and having a healthy normal weight. I am cold ALL the time. Some of us just belong in the Caribbean all year round.

One way I deal with the cold is to take daily hot baths (or visit the gym's sauna or hot tub). It revitalizes my energy and brings blood to my hands and feet. Also spicy food is heaven-sent... really gets your blood circulating - curries, peppers, garlic, jalapenos.
posted by hillabeans at 12:23 PM on November 30, 2009

Uniqlo makes these HeatTech items that are really thin but keep you really warm.
posted by monospace at 1:21 PM on November 30, 2009

I'm pretty cold-intolerant, due to thyroid and other health issues. However, I find that spending more time in cold weather helps a lot; I acclimate. So I do bundle up, always keep a pashmina handy, dress in layers, etc., but I also push myself to spend time outdoors, so I have developed a decent temperature comfort range.
posted by theora55 at 1:26 PM on November 30, 2009

The only way to acclimate to the cold is to get used to it. Turn the heat down. Sit around in pants and a T-shirt. It sucks for a month or so but after that you'll be complaining about how hot it is everywhere you go.

Right now, it's about 58-61° where I'm sitting. I'll put the heat on in a bit, but I'm secretly enjoying being a little cold. (electric heat, utilities NOT included) Just about anywhere I go, I am too warm. I am wearing a sweatshirt, (plus pants, socks and a T-shirt) but it is just a bit too - uh - brisk.

One benefit is that your metabolism will kick up a bit. If your self-control is better than mine you may actually lose weight during the winter. I used to, but now I'm getting old and soft.

Long undies let you avoid, not acclimate.
posted by KenManiac at 4:29 PM on November 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

Thermostat's 62 here too. If it's the norm, one mostly* gets used to it.

* gives evil eye to housemate who bumped up the thermostat to 70.
posted by zippy at 1:25 AM on December 1, 2009

I can relate to this. I am cold all the time. You may want to consider checking into haramaki, or Japanese tummy warmers. It's a tube of fabric that wraps around your core. I've never tried one, but I want to! It seems like something that would be easy enough to make. This could also be helpful in the summer - you could make/get a lightweight one to wear under t-shirts and it would just look like another layer showing through at the bottom, if it showed at all.

I saw an electric mattress pad mentioned. That seriously saves my life in winter. I find that if I sleep nice and warm all night, that I'm much less cold throughout the next day. Someone also mentioned tank tops, which I can nth. The ones that keep me the warmest so far seem to be the microfibery ones that are ultra sheer and synthetic. They will actually cause me to sweat during the day, which is unheard of.

At work I keep a heater under my desk. I wear a lot of cardigans. I find that cool drinks help me feel warmer, but that is probably psychological. Knee-length boots, as mentioned above, are also really good. Keep yourself hydrated and lotioned up. That helps your overall comfort, but I think that it has some use against the cold.

Stay out of drafts. Wear comfortable shoes - I find that high heels or other "difficult shoes" either expose or cut off circulation to my toes, which in turn makes me feel cold. Take plenty of hot baths.

When it all comes down to it, the key is to sleep well/warm at night and keep your core warm. Hopefully that will make life a little more comfortable for you!
posted by thrift store hamburger at 11:03 AM on December 2, 2009

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