Put On Your Socks: Toasty Tips for Staying Warm During a Cold Spell
Who knew there could be a downside to losing weight? Turns out, those extra pounds you’ve been lugging around for the last few decades actually created a layer of insulation under your skin. When you lose that fat, which often happens with aging as our appetites dwindle, you end up trapping less internal heat, which makes you feel colder than you used to. Plus, a slowing in your metabolic rate as you age means you have less blood flowing through your body, especially in your extremities. And that means your feet, toes and fingers can feel chilled.
Most older adults have some trouble staying warm, says Dr. Deirdre Claiborue, a Henry Ford Health System staff physician and medical director of Thome PACE in Jackson. PACE, Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly, is a partnership between Henry Ford Health System and Presbyterian Villages of Michigan. The problem of older adults staying warm varies in severity and causes, however. Some of us retain a bit more fat to keep us warm, and active older adults have a healthier, warming metabolism than those whose movements are limited. And for some of us who feel the most discomfort, medications or underlying health issues might be the culprits.
If you’re the only one in your home who feels cold, it’s time to take steps to find the problem and its solution. “Don’t assume this is because you’re just getting old,” Dr. Claiborue says. “Look for a medical cause.”
This could include:
• Medications, such as beta blockers and calcium channel blockers for high blood pressure and other heart problems. These tend to decrease the heart rate, which in turn reduces the circulation to your hands and feet.
• High cholesterol, which can lead to plaque buildup, or hardening of the arteries, and decreased blood flow.
• Nerve damage from diseases such as diabetes. But nerves could also be damaged by a bad disk or other skeleton issues that could be easily treated.
• Thyroid problems, which can slow your metabolic rate.
Always talk with your doctor when you notice any changes in how you feel. “Often these are symptoms that can be remedied,” Dr. Claiborue says. “It’s important to think about your quality of life, and part of that is feeling comfortable.”
Keep cozy inside
Keep your thermostat between 70 and 73 degrees Fahrenheit, she advises. Going warmer can dry out indoor air and make it harder to breathe, especially for anyone with lung problems. But colder settings can put too much of a burden on your body. Joints get stiff and painful, which limits mobility and makes you feel even colder. In short, higher than 80 degrees is too hot and under 65 is too cold.
Judge your comfort level according to the main parts of your body – your face, trunk and legs. If your extremities are cold, keep them warm with:
• Socks with grip bottoms, or warm slippers with rubber soles.
• Mittens or finger socks, especially when you’re inactive.
Bundle up outside
Wear thin layers, with a T-shirt or turtleneck under a sweater, plus long johns on cold days. Top this with an overcoat, scarf, hat, mittens and boots. Boots should be waterproof and, ideally, lined with insulators such as fleece or fake fur.
Cold and damp feet will add unnecessary stress to your body and worsen existing joint conditions, like arthritis or heart and lung problems.
Your hat should be comfortable and cover your ears and forehead. Thinning hair is common as we age. “You can’t depend on hair as a protection from the elements the way you used to,” Dr. Claiborue says.
Getting chilled causes colds. False. Colds come from viruses. Still, getting too cold weakens your immune system, which make you more vulnerable to viruses.
We lose the most body heat through our heads. True, to a point. “If your head is cold, you’re not going to feel warm,” says Dr. Deirdre Claiborue of Henry Ford Health System. But you’ll lose heat through any extremity that isn’t covered. And, in fact, your feet are the farthest from your heart, so keeping them warm comes first.