So THAT’S Why You Get Cold More Easily As You Get Older

Feeling frigid? Doctors share what’s behind this common phenomenon and what you can do about it.

There’s a reason why you more often rely on cozy blankets or sweaters for warmth as you get older ― and it’s safe to say you aren’t the only person who feels like you’re running colder and colder.

Doctors say having a harder time getting warm is to be expected for people as they age. In fact, it’s a natural part of aging. Below, experts share why this happens and what you can do about it.

Your skin thins as you age.

“The skin thins as we age, it loses some cells, but in addition, it loses fat padding,” explained Dr. June McKoy, a geriatrician at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago.

McKoy equated our skin’s fat padding to home insulation: It’s meant to keep us warm. As we lose some of that padding, our body then loses the ability to stay as warm as it used to be.

This fat loss happens particularly in the legs and arms, said Dr. James Powers, the program director for the Geriatric Fellowship at Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Center for Quality Aging. So you may notice that these areas, in particular, feel colder than the rest of your body.

You also lose muscle.

“We tend to lose … 3% to 8% of muscle each decade starting at age 30. So by age 65, many individuals have lost 10% or more of their muscle mass, and by age 80, [they’ve lost] 30%,” said Powers.

Not only does this impact your strength, but it impacts your warmth, too. Muscle is “your most actively metabolizing organ … muscle tissue uses more oxygen and metabolizes and creates the heat that keeps us warm,” Powers explained.

Exercise is one way to stay warmer.
JOSE CARLOS CERDENO MARTINEZ VIA GETTY IMAGES/Exercise is one way to stay warmer.

Overall, this is a sign of normal aging, but it’s still important to bring it up to your doctor.

“Very rarely, feeling colder can be part of a health condition — so, not part of normal aging,” said Dr. Ariel Green, an associate professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and vice chair of the American Geriatrics Society’s clinical practice and models of care committee.

“But I think … it’s unlikely to have only feeling colder as a symptom of that,” Green pointed out.

According to Green, people with diabetes, poor circulation or heart failure, for example, may feel cold, and so may people with hypothyroidism or anemia. But you would likely notice other symptoms first if it’s the result of an underlying condition, Green noted.

“It’s good to ask your doctor about it, but not something really to worry about too much,” Green said.

There are ways you can combat this issue.

It goes without saying, but blankets and sweaters are always a good way to keep warm — especially as we head into late fall and winter. Additionally, Powers said layering and getting into a warm environment can be helpful, too.

Fitness can also be a big help. You can slow down one of the culprits of that colder feeling — muscle mass loss — by exercising, according to Powers. Plus, it’s a good way to just feel warmer in general, too.

“We all tend to feel colder if we’re sedentary, and so if you already, with aging, have a tendency to feel colder, just keep moving,” Green added.

This could mean going for a walk, a bike ride or doing some simple strength exercises as you sit in a chair. For chair strength training, Green suggests using a full water bottle or can of soup and raising it a few times for an effective workout.

Just doing something to get your blood flowing can help you feel warmer, added Green.

“I think the main thing is just move as much as [you] can,” Green said. Beyond staying warm, exercise can help with your heart healthmental health and can help reduce your injury risk. In other words, exercise is a win all around.

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