I like winter. (Caveat: I’m talking about Texas winter, which is defined by sustained temperatures in the upper 30s and a lack of icy precipitation. Everybody in Boston can roll their eyes right now.) My marathon PR was set on a cold and windy day when all the Kenyans dropped out due to unfavorable conditions; I finished in a short-sleeved shirt, my jacket around my waist, legs bare. I often feel tingly alive on a blustery, gray day, my senses sharp, spirits joyful. While I do own a pair of full-length running tights, they almost never see the light; used to be, unless conditions were wet or temperatures below freezing, I never wore anything but shorts.
“Used to be.” Note the past tense.
This winter, I have struggled to stay warm. Getting out of bed on drizzly days with 30- or 40-degree outdoor temperatures has been a challenge, one I’ve often not risen to. A mug of hot water is de rigueur, both for the exterior warmth of the cup on my hands and the internal respite that drinking it provides. There have been days when I could not stop shaking. Heading outside for a run, I’m dressed in tights, long-sleeved shirt, jacket, gloves…and that’s on a warmer day. Inside, working, I’ve hung by the fire, wrapped up in blankets, upped my daily movement. Nothing has helped.
Why am I so cold?
A little research reveals a few possible explanations for my persistent chill: gender, aging, and a medical condition.
Female and Frozen
It is true that women just naturally run colder than men. Why? According to a CBS News article, women conserve more body heat around their core organs. This draws bodily warmth inward, leaving extremities (hands and feet, those extra bits) cold. Being female, I can check that box.
As we age, circulation naturally decreases. Blood vessels lose elasticity; the fat layer under the skin thins; metabolism’s response to temperature changes slows. While I am certainly aging–thank goodness, as death is not an alternative I embrace quite yet — I really didn’t expect these changes to plow through my life with all the subtlety of a wrecking ball. I assumed that, gradually, I’d ease into being a little old lady who cranks up the heat. Maybe I have; could it be that slowing down was just so gradual I missed the progression? As Eric Nagourney wrote in his New York Times column “Booming: Living Through the Middle Ages” — “Just put a sweater on.” Okay, but so far, adding another layer hasn’t done the trick.
Ask the Doctor
And then there’s the medical stuff. Checking WebMD leads to a laundry list of possible conditions that have coldness as a common symptom: anemia, hypothryoidism, blood vessel disorders, diabetes, anorexia.
Anorexia can be ruled out with a single glance at my nutritional habits. While diabetes runs in my family, I eat well, exercise regularly, and (despite whining to the contrary) keep my weight in the healthy range. I also have no other symptoms, so diabetes comes off the list. Blood vessel disorders require some investigation. Many runners I know have developed Raynaud’s phenomenon; restricted blood flow to the fingers and toes causes them to turn white and painful. This goes in the “tests required” category, along with anemia. According to the Cleveland Clinic, older adults are susceptible to anemia from a number of causes, one being iron deficiency, which can be a result of problems in intestinal absorbtion. Hmmmm…it’s been a year since I was diagnosed with gluten sensitivity. Could it be that my iron levels need correcting?
Which brings me full-circle to hypothyroidism. I was diagnosed with an under-active thyroid in 2006 and have been on medication ever since; my wonderful endocrinologist made some medication adjustments after my last visit. In fact, I’m due for follow-up lab work this week to check those results. It will be interesting to see what information comes back. In any case, it looks like I’m going to need to schedule an appointment talk about my failure to regulate body heat.
In the meantime, where is my sweater?