You know the stereotypes: the grandparents’ house that’s 85 degrees in July or the uncle who wears sandals in January. Turns out, these behaviors are rooted in science.
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While some signs of aging are visible (cue gray hairs and wrinkles), others are stealthier, including feeling hotter or colder as you get older.
“As we age, our body distribution changes — including our body fat percentage, muscle mass, skin and sweat glands. These changes can affect our body’s thermal regulation,” says geriatric medicine specialist Ken Koncilja, MD. “As a result, we may not recognize temperature swings as well. Our core body temperature may even change.”
What causes heat and cold intolerance?
Temperature intolerances tend to happen in your 70s or 80s. If they happen earlier, certain medical conditions may be to blame, including:
- Thyroid diseases: Thyroid conditions can develop in your teens. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is the most common type of hypothyroidism in the U.S. Hashimoto’s can make you feel cold.
- Head and neck cancers: Radiation treatment that affects your thyroid can alter how you perceive temperature. “Thyroid hormones help raise body temperature,” says Dr. Koncilja.
- Nutritional deficiencies: Conditions such as scurvy, vitamin B12 deficiency or folic acid deficiency affect body temperature.
“This is something that I often bring up with patients during annual wellness visits,” says Dr. Koncilja. “If something is off about your heat or cold tolerance, let your healthcare provider know.”
Four ways to reduce body temperature changes as you age
If your heat and cold intolerances are age-related, Dr. Koncilja recommends the following:
Stay hydrated: As we age, our thirst reflex diminishes, too. That’s why it’s important to drink plenty of liquids, no matter the weather.
Watch the weather: Pay attention to the heat index in the summer and wind chill factor in the winter. “When the heat index is above a certain number, local health departments will issue warnings for older adults and small children,” notes Dr. Koncilja. “It’s important to have access to shade. And know where to go in a heat wave if you don’t have air conditioning, such as a gym, school, church or another resource in your city or county.”
Build muscle: “You can build muscle at any age. Use resistance training as training for your everyday life. It makes a difference for body temperature regulation (thermoregulation).”
Dress for success: In warm weather, wear light, cotton clothing. In cold weather, choose warm materials like wool. Wear gloves and hats that cover your ears. “Frostbite is common in older adults, and it can happen quickly,” adds Dr. Koncilja. “Footwear matters. Get warm socks and good quality, warm boots or shoes.”