If you're anything like me, then you're probably just trying to find a dignified, sweat-free way to ride out this inconveniently unpredictable phase of fall weather that annually causes us to curse our morning wardrobe choices before it's even time for lunch. That said, while all the devious, random, and delightfully confusing temperature changes of fall may be your current focus, the reality is that winter is coming. So unless you live somewhere with near-magical weather like Los Angeles or the kingdom of Dorne, you should probably go ahead and start preparing yourself for the months of cold we're about to face — and one way to do that is by learning about what happens to our bodies when we're cold.
Of course, we all know what the side effects of being cold are. Our teeth have been chattering, our noses have been running, and our cheeks have been flushing in cold weather (or even in drafty houses and grocery store freezer sections) since we were kids — but knowing what your body does to cause these visual side effects of being cold is a different thing altogether, and it may just blow your mind a little bit — or at least encourage you to help your body out as much as possible, and stylishly bundle up. Here are five weird things your body does when it's cold, explained.
1. Why Your Face Gets Red
You know how your cheeks and hands (and sometimes even thighs and booty) turn red after you've been out in the cold for a little too long? Well, this is called vasoconstriction, and it's caused when our bodies react to being cold by attempting to reduce blood flow to the body's surface. What actually happens to cause your cheeks to turn red, though, is when the blood vessels in your face dilate and then literally burst after narrowing. This is also what causes your hands to go numb if you've been too cold for too long. Freaky, right?
2. Why Your Teeth Chatter
If you've ever been so cold that your teeth started to chatter uncontrollably and your body started to visibly shake like some adorable Peanuts character, then you might be interested to know what was going on internally to create this annoying (albeit adorable) outward motion.
When we get super cold and our bodies start to shiver, it's because our skin receptors have sent warning signals to the brain about our body's swiftly dropping temperature. Our brains watch our body's temperature very closely, so when your surface temperature has fallen below what your brain considers normal, (98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, or 36.9 degrees Celsius) your brain tells your muscles to start spasming in an effort to generate heat for your body and bring your temperature back up to normal.
So while chattering teeth and full-body shivers may not seem like a big deal if you get cold really easy, it's definitely not a sign you should ignore, either. Because if your brain is freaking out hard enough about your body's temperature to literally induce muscle spasms, you probably need to invest in a heavier coat — and maybe exchange your normal hairstyle for a beanie.
3. Why Your Nose Runs
Runny noses are a gross side effect of being cold that I think we're all, unfortunately, pretty familiar with — but what you might not be familiar with is why your nose randomly turns into a literal snot faucet when you get cold. So here's the deal — its our nose's job to humidify (add moisture to) the air we breathe, and as you already know, when air gets colder it also gets dryer. Incidentally, the cold, dry air we breathe at around 45 degrees or below is hard on our lungs, so all that runny nose business is just our body's effort to moisturize our air before it gets to our lungs.
It's still gross, but knowing our snotty noses are just visual proof that our bodies are constantly trying to look out for us makes the whole runny nose thing a little less annoying. Or, if not less annoying, at least a little less surprising.
4. Why You Get Lazier
I'm sure you've noticed that cold weather, and cold apartments, tend to make people and their pets way more sluggish than usual. When this happens, it's more than a case of cold-weather-induced laziness, it's actually our body's attempt to conserve energy and keep warm. As Kristen Rodman put it in her AccuWeather article about how the cold affects our bodies, "The body will inherently source and spend its energy levels differently in order to keep itself warm. During this process, the body will reduce some of its muscle contractions and reallocate the amount of carbohydrates used."
So, while cold temperatures are not a reason to skip regular exercise, (or, you know, just hang out exclusively indoors for several months) it's nice to know that the almost-magnetic attraction we feel for our couches and beds when it's cold out isn't inherently bad. It's actually a perfectly natural part of how our species has survived this long in cold weather.
5. Why You Get Goosebumps
One of the most obvious, visual ways our bodies react to being cold is by breaking out in goosebumps. Of course, this is also one of the ways our bodies react to strong emotions like fear — but if you see goosebumps on yourself or someone else, and neither of you are in the middle of a suspenseful episode of The Walking Dead , then you can instantly determine that the two of you have reached an uncomfortable level of chilly.
What happens to cause your hair follicles to tighten up and make your hair stand straight is actually pretty fascinating. As LiveScience explains in their article on what causes goosebumps, straightened body hair traps a layer of air against the skin, and this is meant to act as an insulation of sorts from cold environments. Unfortunately, (or perhaps very fortunately depending on how you feel about body hair) this automatic reaction to cold weather isn't nearly as effective now as it was back in the days when human bodies were covered in thick hair. That said, it's still nice to know our bodies haven't forgotten how to adapt to the cold, despite the fact that we have central heating.