I always wondered how much cold a human body can take? How long?
And the most important: can you get used to cold?
I came from a freezing place in Russia that is considered to be a gateway to the Kolyma region. Kolyma is a region located in the Russia Far East. Average winter temperatures range from −19 °C to −38 °C (even lower in the interior), and average summer temperatures, from +3 °C to +16 °C.
I remember that graduated high school and I had only 2 or 3 t-shirts that I used to wear to the gym. Nothing else with short sleeves. Only because there was no use for those, there was nowhere to wear clothing with short sleeves.
Now, being in Canada, Ontario for over half of my life (aka over 20 year) I often hear “you must be used to cold weather” when I tell people in Canada where I am from. Sometimes I hear “this Canadian winter must be nothing to you”. And I always feel awkward to admit that I feel extremely cold and uncomfortable in any winter; in fact I consider any temperature below zero to be unbearably cold. It seems to me that no amount of clothing can protect me from cold winds and temperatures and I find myself always shaking and freezing to the bones.
So, can a person get used to cold weather?
And what does “getting used to” mean? Why is two people in the same room and in the same temperature feel different? Why I am always the one who is sneaking to the thermostat and rising the temperature up, while the other person is also sneaking secretly to turn it down?
First of all, if the sensitivity to cold is recent, then it could indicated some medical problems such as thyroid disease.
Some resources mention physical adaptation to cold through exposure. According to them if a person walks barefoot, takes cold showers, and spends more time outside in cooling weather then she or he will develop tolerance to cold. I guess it works for some people, however it brings me back to my wonders, why me, who was born and raised in a very cold climate never adapted to it and suffered each and every winter. Considering there was no much of a summer either (unless +15C at the highest with strong wind can be considered “high” summer temperatures).
In some other resources I read that people who constantly live in freezing conditions (inuits, or Russian natives called “chykcha”) tend to have bigger trunks and shorter extremities thus blood can be pumped to hands and feet. In cold weathers human body tends to constrict veins to decrease blood circulation to extremities and diverting most blood to the core and vital body organs thus supporting vital human body functions. That is why a person would get frost bites on fingers, toes, tip of the nose when exposed to cold temperatures for prolonged periods of time. I have had numerous frost bites back home and I remember excruciating pain after coming from cold outside to a warm house. This pain attributes to blood circulation being restored to extremities.
Naturally, once able, people tend to put their frozen fingers and toes under hot water, however, it increases pain as well as damages tissues. The least damaging and painful way to restore blood circulation is to use something made of real wool (a shawl or a sock) and gently massage affected part of the body. It would still hurt a lot, but at least damage to tissue will be minimized.
I am not a scientist, nor am I a medical expert. All I can say that living for over 40 years in cold climate with short summers did not make me adapt to the cold weather or be able to tolerate cold. I still shiver when I see people wearing t-shirts in +10 C or even below (while I am wearing layers of clothing in the same temperatures). I guess each person has his/her own thermostat and genetical predisposition to tolerate or not to tolerate chilly temperatures.
I guess, after all, no matter how long one lives in cold weather, it is impossible to “become used to cold” unless you are somehow genetically programmed to enjoy the it.
I can only dream that one day my life turns around and I will be able to move to a place where average temperature is above +25C.
What do you do to survive temperatures below 0 degrees C? Besides staying indoors and minimizing outdoor movements between your car and the building (office, work, store) you are planning to enter?
If you had a choice, where on earth would you move?