Tips to stay warm in winter: Feeling cold is all about perception, health scientist says.

As residents in New South Wales emerge from under the rug after their coldest day in 21 years, the question on the blue lips of many is what’s the best way to stay warm?

While many may feel their insides are rapidly chilling, Dr Ollie Jay from the University of Sydney said little was happening to our bodies internally and the cold was all due to “perception”.

“I used to live in Canada, so [New South Wales] is not that cold,” he said.

“Not much is happening inside … we have thermo-sensors embedded in our skins; there are hot sensors and cold sensors.

“When your skin temperatures drop below a certain level, that’s what gives us the sensation of cold.”

Dr Jay, the director of the university’s Thermal Ergonomics Laboratory, said people rarely get to the stage of coldness in which their core body temperatures dropped below the normal 37 degrees.

If it does, we start to shiver as the body generates heat to balance our internal temperature with the cold outside.

While the elderly and those with respiratory problems may struggle with the cold, Dr Jay said it was unlikely anyone would suffer from hypothermia.

“The only health impact on regular healthy people is the cold impacts your daily physical activity,” he said.

“It’s about your level of preparedness; using behavioural strategies.”

Here are some tips from Dr Jay and 702 ABC Sydney listeners about the best way to stay warm this winter:

Layering is key

While this might be an obvious tip, Dr Jay said layering your clothes worked the best.


“Wear quite a lot of thin layers because then you can trap the air in between the layers,” he said.

It also means layers of clothing can be removed once someone is warmed up.

702 ABC Sydney caller Jenny, who lives in Orange which was covered in snow on Monday, agreed with the advice.

“The key to handling the cold is layers of clothing — scarf, hat, gloves, jumper, coat,” she said.

“Always make sure you have a back-up coat at work for any extra layer required.”

Cover the important parts

The idea that someone loses 90 per cent of heat through their head is “nonsense”, according to Dr Jay.

Any part of the body which is exposed will feel the chill, which means the hands and ears often feel the coldest.

“There’s differing density in [cold thermo] receptors in different parts of the body,” Dr Jay said.

The back of the neck and lower back have the most cold thermo-receptors and Dr Jay recommends covering those to feel warmer.

“There’s a difference in associating what you are to what you feel,” he said.

702 ABC Sydney caller Corinne said she kept warm with scarves, beanies and gloves made from possum merino.

“Soft and lovely and not itchy at all,” she said.

Keep the house insulated

According to Sydney listener Stephen, Melburnians know the secret to keeping toasty at night.


“After living in Melbourne for some years, on returning to Sydney, the first thing I did was install gas central heating,” he said.

“Sydney has always been cold. We just won’t accept it. I never felt cold in Melbourne — houses heated, dressed properly.”

Dr Jay said some buildings in Australia could feel colder inside than outside.

“We don’t really have well-insulated buildings.”

Have a hot drink

More a quick fix than a warming strategy, Dr Jay said drinking a hot drink did not actually make the body warmer.

A recent study conducted by Dr Jay’s PhD student Nathan Morris tested whether drinking a hot drink was beneficial or not when someone was cold.

“If you drink a hot drink it won’t warm you up, but it does make you feel warmer … but it won’t last,” Dr Jay said.

“You stop shivering but not because your body temperature is going up, it’s because you’re stimulating other thermo-sensors in your stomach.”

The study found that once a hot drink starts to cool in the stomach the person will start feeling cold again.

This post originally appeared on ABC News. 



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