If it seems like your core body temperature is consistently colder than the men in your life, you’re not hallucinating. Science supports the idea that women run colder than men. Cold hands, lower body temperature, and just generally feeling cold compared to our male counterparts is common among women — at least, until we have a hot flash. Here’s all the reasons women are often colder than men, plus steps you can take to improve your circulation (so you’ll have better blood flow and toasty hands and feet in time for the chilly winter months).
Why are women colder than men?
While social conditioning plays a role in how we experience and express discomfort — in this case, cold — there’s actually a pretty good chance that the men in your life are, in fact, unfazed by chilly temps. In recent years, scientific understanding around the effects of temperature on women’s hands and other women’s body parts has expanded significantly. Here are some of the reasons you likely feel a touch colder than your male companions, no matter the climate.
1. Less Muscle Mass
On average, men tend to have significantly higher muscle mass than women. Even if you hit the gym regularly, there are still significant differences in muscle mass between genders (on the whole). Where men’s muscle mass typically ranges from 40 to 45 percent, women’s muscle mass is typically between 30 and 35 percent. This explains a lot, given that muscle mass plays a substantial role in our responses to cold environments.
To start, individuals with higher muscle mass lose less body heat than those with lower muscle mass. Similarly, after extended exposure to cold, individuals with higher muscle mass tend to warm up faster than those with lower muscle mass. Because men often have a higher muscle mass than women, men typically lose their body heat more slowly and regain warmth more quickly than women.
2. Fat Insulation
This is also related to the distribution of weight in the body, especially when compared between men and women. Where men naturally have more muscle in their makeup, women have a higher percentage of body fat. To survive, men need 2 to 5 percent of their body weight to be body fat, with up to 25 percent body fat classified as healthy. By comparison, women need 10 to 13 percent body fat to survive, with up to 31 percent body fat classified as healthy. Body fat helps to protect essential organs, especially those unique to women’s bodies, like the uterus. It also restricts the flow of blood to the extremities and skin surface. Thus, the fact that women have more body fat for survival means our bodies will always be just a bit colder, especially our limbs, fingers, and toes.
3. All in the Hands
The temperature of your extremities can actually inform the rest of your body and affect your overall body temperature. That’s why women’s hands and feet get cold before the rest of their body and why they typically warm up last. Women’s hands maintain an average temperature of around 82.7 degrees Fahrenheit. By comparison, men’s hands are around 90 degrees Fahrenheit on average. Cold hands and feet signal cold to the rest of the body by sending an alert to the brain, which responds accordingly. Because men’s hands get cold much more slowly than women’s hands, these “cold signals” are sent to the male brain less frequently.
4. Lower Metabolic Rate
Another core difference between men and women is their metabolic rate. The metabolic rate is the rate at which your body burns calories during everyday survival functions. It’s important to note that there are many factors that can affect metabolic rate, including sex, hormones, diet, and exercise. That said, men typically have a faster metabolic rate than women. This lower metabolic rate means that women produce less heat than men, as heat is generated by metabolic activity. This results in women typically feeling cold more quickly and warming up more slowly than their male counterparts.
5. Women Are Smaller
Did you know that your height can actually affect how cold you feel? Individuals who are taller are more likely to overheat or experience heat-related conditions like heat exhaustion. In the colder months, however, taller people stay warmer longer than shorter people. There is a significant difference in the average height of men and women, with men averaging 5 feet and 9 inches in adulthood and women averaging 5 feet and 3 and a half inches. The height difference of nearly half a foot helps to explain why women often get cold faster and take longer to warm up than men.
As total body size typically corresponds to height, women are often much smaller than men. Smaller individuals typically have fewer heat-producing cells in their bodies, which means it takes a longer time for them to reach a comfortable body temperature. This theory is reinforced by data surrounding weight loss. One common report from individuals who have lost a significant amount of weight is an increased cold intolerance, and this is particularly true for smaller women.
6. The Influence of Hormones
Women know that hormones play many different roles in our overall health and wellness. They influence our mood, affect our growth, and contribute to functions we need for survival. Much more than men, women undergo consistent and often extreme changes in hormone balance, especially during the menstrual cycle, ovulation, and pregnancy. Women who take birth control or who are going through menopause also experience fluctuations in hormones.
Those fluctuations significantly contribute to our experience of cold. Hormonal changes can increase your internal thermostat’s sensitivity, which can make you more susceptible to feelings of hot and cold. Another reason our hormones can make us feel cold has to do with estrogen. Estrogen can actually reduce the flow of blood to the extremities, which are the sensory triggers for your body’s response to temperatures. If you notice that you feel particularly chilly or have increased difficulty regulating your body temperature during your menstrual cycle, an increase in estrogen levels may be the culprit.
7. Chronic Conditions
We also want to look at the influence of chronic conditions when it comes to the discrepancy in cold tolerance between men and women. A lower skin temperature is a common side effect of conditions related to your thyroid, as well as non-thyroid-related conditions. One such condition is known as Raynaud’s Disease, in which blood flow to the skin is limited. With Raynaud’s Disease, the arteries that supply blood to the skin shrink and narrow. This typically affects the extremities, like the fingers, toes, ears, and nose.
Raynaud’s Disease is a condition that can greatly affect an individual’s tolerance to the cold — and it’s found far more often in women than in men. Estimates suggest that Raynaud’s Disease is present in 5 to 20 percent of women and 4 to 14 percent of men.
The Truth About Body Temperatures
If it seems like you are often the coldest one in your family or that you have to dress in layers on days when the men in your life are warm and comfortable, you’re not alone. Numerous studies indicate that women feel cold more often than men, thanks both to how quickly our body temperatures drop and how long it takes for us to warm back up again. The more you know about what’s making your body cold, the more care you can take to warm and protect yourself on chilly days.