Bare ankles, exposed knees and T-shirts in winter? Is it cold enough for you? | Science| In-depth reporting on science and technology | DW | 22.01.2016
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Bare ankles, exposed knees and T-shirts in winter? Is it cold enough for you?

It's winter in the northern hemisphere. Finally, it's freezing. But some people are still walking around with bare ankles, ripped jeans and exposed knees. Are some people less sensitive to the cold?

There must be something wrong with me.

I love winter - when it's freezing, the cold is crisp and the morning air takes a bite out of your cheeks. But that doesn't mean I don't feel the cold. You'd never catch me walking around with even a puffer jacket open to reveal a see-through tee.


By this year's standards, however, I seem to have joined an ever decreasing circle of Earth inhabitants who still cover up and get snug - rather than "thug."

See? I knew there was something wrong with me. I'm just not tough enough for bare ankles and exposed knees.

Last time I checked I was also still human - no penguin, no fish.

Fish, for instance, are exothermic, which means they regulate their body temperature according to their surroundings. So when the water temperature drops, their body temperature drops, and their metabolism slow down as well.

Penguins, on the other hand, have fat and a dense layer of feathers to protect them from the cold.

But not me.

Acclimatize and adapt

It's often said that women feel the cold more than men and that this has to do with differences in fat distribution and muscle density. But most of the people I see out with bare ankles are women.

Do they simply not feel the cold? Perhaps they are able to force their feet into a localized hibernation. But, no, that wouldn't work. They wouldn't be able to jump up and down to keep warm if their feet were asleep.

Perhaps I'm getting old. And perhaps the bare ankle mob deploying a psychology that allows them to either ignore the cold, or acclimatize.

Studies of inuk communities suggest short, stocky frames make it easier to preserve the body's core temperature. And if you have shorter limbs the blood doesn't have to travel as far to keep the extremities - your hands and feet - warm.

The problem is, a lot of the people I see bare ankled are tall and thin.

No… It's a fashion, is it?

Oh, I know. The young will adapt by forming fat, feathery ankles and knees. Yep, that'll work.

As for us oldies, I'm afraid we're doomed.

Take me, for example. I need to freeze once a year. When I lived in Melbourne and all the winters ever did was get windy and wet, I pined for the big chill of Europe.

But I cover up: my current uniform consists of long underwear, jumpers, two coats, a scarf and hat, gloves, and a beautiful pair of wool-lined boots I bought on sale (my proudest achievement so far this year).

And yet bits of me - my hands and feet - still feel cold.

Now, it could simply have something to do with the fact that I'm a bit of a whimp. But it could also indicate an issue with my thyroid gland. And given that this is a recent addition to my neurotic catalogue of ailments, I should really go see a doctor.

Or toughen up.

After all, it would take some doing for me to die from the cold. You only start to expire when your body temperature drops to below 21 degrees Celsius (70 degrees Fahrenheit). And even then it's hard to say how long my death would take.

I guess it would all depend on how accustomed I was to the cold.

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