As any good scientist will tell you, there’s no such thing as “cold.” Cold is simply a lack of—or a dramatic loss of—heat. Either way, it is important to stay warm. Check your knowledge of cold against these ten cold myths, and then warm to the truth of the matter.
Myth 1: You Lose Most of Your Heat From Your Head
No, you don’t. Thermophysiologist Gordon Giesbrecht of the University of Manitoba says, “Where your body loses heat is closely related to surface area, and the head has only about 9 percent of the body’s surface area.” As the temperature decreases, the blood vessels in your extremities constrict. Yet only 10% of your body heat is being lost through your head.
That said: If you are all bundled up, you lose more body heat through the top of an uncovered head, so perhaps you could say “Mom was right” after all.
Myth 2: If Your Fingers or Toes are Cold, Rub Them
Wiggle them instead. If exposed skin (including that of your face and ears) becomes cold, cover it with a warm hand until it feels better. Dr. Giesbrecht says, “Never accept numbness. It is a sign that tissue is already very cold and potentially about to freeze.” If there’s a chance you may have frostbite, don’t rub the frostbitten area, especially not with snow. Rubbing will cause tissue damage. Do not try to warm frostbitten skin until you’re sure you’re free of the danger of it freezing again. Refreezing increases tissue damage and can cause you more pain and suffering.
Myth 3: A Cup of Coffee or a Sip of Brandy is a Good Way to Warm Up
Caffeine and alcohol actually hinder the body’s ability to produce heat. They can also cause your core temperature to drop. Instead, drink warm water. Even better, down a beverage that contains sugar; that will give your body fuel to produce its own energy.
Myth 4: If You Get Chilled, You’ll Catch a Cold
Wrong. You catch cold from a virus, not from cold temperatures.
Myth 5: If You Fall Through Ice and Into Water, You’ll Die of Hypothermia Right Away
It depends; you may have about an hour to survive this kind of cold shock. Understanding what’s happening and not panicking are critical to your survival. Remember the one-ten-one rule: one minute, ten minutes, one hour. You have one minute to get control of your breathing (a common reaction to severe cold is to panic and start hyperventilating). You have ten minutes to perform any meaningful movement, during which you can do your best to get out of the water. If you can’t get out on your own, you have one hour before hypothermia will render you unconscious. So, when you can no longer use your arms and legs effectively, adopt a position in the water that conserves body heat (curl up, keep limbs close) until help arrives.
Myth 6: Dehydration is Not a Danger When You Exercise in Cold Weather
False. You can sweat when you exercise anytime, and in cold weather you also lose more water through your breath than you would at warmer temperatures. Dehydration is dangerous in the cold; it hinders the body’s ability to produce heat.
Myth 7: If You’re Stranded and Thirsty, Eat Snow
Bad idea. Eating snow or sucking on ice will lower your body temperature. It can also lead to internal injuries. If you have no water, try melting ice in a plastic bag between the layers of your clothing. Ice melts more quickly than the same volume of snow and yields more water.
Myth 8: If I’m Feeling Cold, You Must Be Feeling It, Too
Nope. Age, gender, fitness level, acclimatization - these and other factors determine when you “feel” cold. It’s been proven, for example, that women generally feel cold before men do, possibly because they have less heat-generating ability but a relatively similar amount of heat-losing skin. In addition, women’s blood vessels contract sooner as a result of cold than men’s do, so women’s skin feels colder more quickly.
Myth 9: Shivering is Not Good
False. It may not feel good, but shivering means that your body is trying to warm up, and that’s good. Shivering happens involuntarily - it’s one of the ways (along with an increased metabolism and breathing rate) your body automatically responds to heat loss that threatens to lower your core temperature. In fact, skeletal muscle contractions - shivering - can triple your body’s heat production.
Myth 10: Ten Degrees is Ten Degrees. It Always Feels the Same
Actually, it doesn’t. Ever noticed how ten degrees (or, any cool temperature) feels colder in the fall than it does in the spring? This is because our bodies are used to dealing with much colder temperatures and react more quickly, so we lose heat more slowly, and don’t “feel” as cold.
Aren’t some of these facts, uh, chilling? Share your thoughts below.