There’s a reason you often relied on cozy blankets or sweaters to keep warm as you grew older, and it’s safe to say you’re not the only one who finds yourself getting colder and colder.
Doctors say it gets harder for people to stay warm as they age. In fact, it’s a natural part of the aging process. Below, experts share why this happens and what you can do about it.
Your skin thins as you age.
“Skin thins as we age, losing some cells, but in addition, it also loses its fat pad,” explains Dr. June McKoy, a geriatrician at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago.
McKoy equates the fat pad on our skin to the insulation in our homes: It’s meant to keep us warm. When we lose some of that cushioning, our bodies lose the ability to keep warm as before.
This fat loss occurs specifically in the legs and arms, says Dr. James Powers, director of the Geriatrics Fellowship program at Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Center for Excellence in Aging. So you may notice that these areas especially feel colder than the rest of your body.
You also lose muscle.
“We tend to lose…3% to 8% of muscle every decade starting at age 30. So by age 65, many people have lost 10% or more of their muscle mass, and by age 80, [they’ve lost] 30%,” Powers said.
This not only affects your strength but also your warmth. Muscles are “your most metabolically active organ… muscle tissue uses more oxygen and metabolizes and produces heat to keep us warm,” Powers explains.
In general, this is a sign of normal aging, but it’s important to see your doctor.
“It’s very rare that feeling colder can be part of a health condition,” said Dr. Ariel Green, associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and vice president of the American Geriatrics Society. – therefore, not part of the normal aging process.” Clinical practice and care committee models.
“But I think… it’s unlikely that just feeling cold is a symptom of that,” Green pointed out.
According to Green, people with diabetes, poor circulation or heart failure can feel cold, and so can people with hypothyroidism or anemia. But you’ll likely notice other symptoms first if they’re the result of an underlying medical condition, Green notes.
“It’s good to ask your doctor about it, but there’s really nothing to worry too much about,” Green says.
There are many ways you can combat this problem.
Needless to say, blankets and sweaters are always good ways to stay warm – especially as we enter late fall and winter. Additionally, Powers says dressing in layers and getting into a warm environment can also help.
Exercise can also be a big help. According to Powers, you can slow down one of the more cold-causing culprits — loss of muscle mass — by exercising. Plus, it’s also a good way to feel warmer in general.
“We all tend to feel colder if we’re sedentary, and so if you’re getting older and tend to feel colder, keep moving,” Green added.
This could mean going for a walk, going for a bike ride, or doing some simple strengthening exercises while you sit in a chair. For chair strength training, Green suggests using a full water bottle or can of soup and lifting it up a few times for an effective workout.
Just doing something to get your blood flowing can help you feel warmer, Green adds.
“I think the most important thing is to move as much as possible [you] maybe,” Green said. In addition to keeping warm, exercise can also help with heart health, mental health and can help reduce the risk of injury. In other words, exercise is a win.
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