Most of us know at least one person who “runs hot.” On frigid winter days, they’re running around in shorts and sandals like it’s a balmy spring day. On the other end of the spectrum are the folks who carry a warm sweater, no matter the weather. Even when the temperatures rise, if the slightest breeze passes by, they’re cuddling in a warm blanket or jacket or sipping a warm beverage as they shiver. People who are always cold are understandably often asking, “Why am I always cold?” Is it a sign of a problem, and is there anything you can do to finally warm up?
Perhaps you’re at neither end of the spectrum but you notice your fingers and toes tend to be icy, no matter what the temperature and for no apparent reasons. It’s natural for body temperature to shift with changing environments. So, if you find you get really cold on days when it’s chilly, that’s normal. But, if you find you are always cold, you have tingling, numbness, or stiffness in your extremities, you frequently shiver, or your hands and feet are particularly cold, it’s something worth investigating.
Cold intolerance is a symptom that may be the result of an illness, or you could just be abnormally sensitive to cold sensations or temperatures. It can result from a low metabolism or be due to nervous system changes. It can also happen if you’re very thin or if you’ve recently lost a lot of body fat.
Standard Body Temperature
Body temperature has actually been dropping over the years for all humans. Back in the 1800s, the standard body temperature was 98.6 degrees F. According to new research, though, human body temperature has been dropping since the Industrial Revolution and now sits around 97.9 degrees F. 16
Interestingly, women tend to feel colder than men, which can be explained in part by their lower metabolic rate, especially if sedentary. 1 Women’s bodies tend to burn fewer heat-generating calories when at rest. Women also tend to perceive their hands as colder. 2
This can explain why you may differ from your partner, co-worker, or roommate on what temperature to set the thermostat. While there are, of course, exceptions and a wide range of preferences, research has found women tend to feel more comfortable in rooms where the temp is around 77 degrees F, whereas men find it’s more comfortable when it’s closer to 71.6 degrees. 3
Again, feeling cold when it’s chilly is only natural. But if you find yourself shivering as everyone else is shedding layers, it could indicate a problem. This is especially true if you have other symptoms, such as:
- Feeling fatigued
- Seeing changes in your hair or skin
- Shortness of breath
- Bowel changes
If so, it’s time to reach out to your personal healthcare practitioner to help get to the bottom of your symptoms.
8 Reasons Why You’re Always Cold
Some people grow up in warm climates and just prefer to stay warm—the warmer the better. Any temperature below your preferred threshold can feel cold to you. For some people who grow up in hot climates and then move to colder climates find it difficult to maintain their preferred temperature and thus always (or at least often) feel cold.
For those folks, you may want to stay in (or move to) a warmer, sunnier climate. Otherwise, you may just need to get used to bundling up as you acclimate. Fortunately, in this case, being cold is just a nuisance. However, always being cold can also be a sign of a health concern.
Grab your favorite shawl, blanket, jacket, or cover-up and the warm beverage of your choice, and let’s look at some of the most common reasons you’re always cold.
1. Loss of Body Fat
Whether you lost the weight intentionally or you gradually lost weight as you got older, you may find you’re cold more often. Aging alone can lead to decreased fat cells, which hold in the heat. And if you’ve recently started a diet or exercise plan and dropped body fat, temperatures may feel cooler because you have less natural insulation.
If you are making dietary changes to lose weight, be careful to avoid malnourishment. The body needs calories and nutrients to fuel your busy lifestyle. And if you’re not getting enough food or not getting enough nutrients, this can lead to unhealthy weight loss and increasingly feeling uncomfortably cool.
How to Warm Up: Avoid losing too much fat too quickly. A good rate is between half a pound and two pounds per week. If you have more weight to lose, if possible, enlist the help of your doctor, a nutritionist, and support to help you navigate healthy weight-loss choices. Of course, it’s important to ensure your diet provides the nutrition you need, especially if you’re also becoming more active.
2. Low Body Weight
People with a BMI below 18.5 kg/m2 often tend to feel cold due to a lack of body fat, which insulates against cold temperatures. It also means you have less fatty tissue to burn, which means your body produces less heat. Especially if you’re underweight and have low levels of fat and muscle, it can be difficult to maintain body temperature. Thus, you always feel cold. 4, 5
How to warm up: Work with your healthcare provider to discover why your body weight is so low. You may need to change your diet and consume more calories from whole, healthy foods like quality proteins, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates while adding muscle-building activities to your regular routine. Being underweight can also be due to an underlying health condition, such as hyperthyroidism, so if you have other symptoms, a discussion with your doctor may help you best address your low body weight.
Low body weight can also result from dangerous eating disorders that severely limit food intake, such as anorexia nervosa, which need to be addressed with the help of professionals (e.g., doctors, nurses, and nutritionists), support groups, talk therapy, and sometimes medications. 6
3. Raynaud’s Syndrome
Raynaud’s Syndrome is often discovered due to fingers and toes turning blue or white when exposed to cold and then turning bright red as the blood and heat return. Other body parts can also be affected, such as the lips, ears, and even nipples. The phenomenon is due to the blood vessels getting abnormally narrow when cold or stressed, which deprives the cells of oxygen. 7
Other symptoms may include feeling numb, tingling, pain, or pins and needles, especially once you’ve begun to warm up and the blood flow returns. As the blood flow returns, the skin may also flush. 8
The cause, unfortunately, is difficult to determine, but it may be associated with connective tissue disorders, certain medications, or working with vibrating tools (such as impact drills, grinders, sanders, or chainsaws) for an extended period.
How to warm up: Because the cause hasn’t been determined, the best ways to deal with Reynaud’s syndrome include:
- Avoiding cold temperatures and keeping your home and workspace warm
- Keeping stress levels down and practicing yoga or breathing exercises regularly to relax
- Exercising consistently to improve circulation
- Nourishing the body with a healthy, whole-food-centric diet
- And avoiding habits that can lead to vasoconstriction, such as smoking or large amounts of caffeine. 7
For severe cases, your doctor may suggest medication or potentially surgery.
Anemia results from low red blood cell counts. Without enough red blood cells, the tissues in the body don’t get enough oxygen. 8 This, in turn, leads you to feel chilly, especially in the extremities, as well as fatigued. Other symptoms include:
- Pale skin, nailbeds, lower eyelids, and gums
- Shortness of breath
- Increased heart rate
- Particularly cold hands and feet
- Brittle nails
- Chest pain
Iron deficiencies due to heavy menstrual bleeding, uterine fibroids, an iron-poor diet, or a chronic health condition (e.g., inflammatory bowel disease or taking blood thinners), or consuming an unbalanced vegetarian diet can lead to anemia. Vitamin B12 or vitamin B9 deficiencies can also be a cause.
Anemia is very common and can often be addressed with dietary changes or supplementation, but not always. For instance, some people are born with sickle cell anemia or have a rare blood disorder known as Fanconi anemia. There are also diseases that prevent the bone marrow from making enough red blood cells or for red blood cells to break down rapidly or even for the body to attack its own red blood cells. Kidney disease can also lead to low levels of iron.
How to warm up: Because there are different causes of anemia, there are also different treatments. Work with your doctor to determine the cause and the appropriate treatment. You may be referred to a hematologist or blood disorder specialist to address the condition. Or, your doctor may recommend increasing the amount of iron or vitamins in your diet and ensuring you stay hydrated, depending on how anemic you are.
Iron-rich foods include red meat, shellfish, canned tuna, and eggs, which contain the more easily absorbed heme iron. Other non-heme sources are beans, spinach and other leafy greens, and nuts, which work best when paired with vitamin C as found in citrus fruits and tomatoes. Other recommendations to support healthy blood cells include regular exercise, avoiding chemical exposure, and taking other steps to improve overall health.
5. Underactive Thyroid (Hypothyroidism)
If you have found that you are gradually becoming less tolerant to cold, it could be because your thyroid is not producing enough thyroid hormones, which are needed to regulate metabolism and body temperature. The thyroid is basically the body’s thermostat. 10 If it doesn’t produce enough hormones, then it’s as if you’re turning the temp down on your entire body.
There are typically other symptoms associated with this condition as when the body doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormones, other processes also slow. Other symptoms include:
- Feeling exhausted or extremely fatigued
- Feeling low or depressed
- Hair thinning
- Dry skin
- Changes in bowel habits, such as constipation
- Menstrual changes, such as irregular or heavy periods
- Decreased heart rate
- Unexplained weight gain
How to warm up: If you have multiple symptoms, seek advice from your doctor sooner rather than later. They can help diagnose hypothyroidism via a blood test and then guide you through a treatment plan, which can include thyroid hormone replacement. 11
6. Medication Side Effects
Certain medications can also change your perception of temperature and may lead you to always feel cold. Some of the most likely medications include:
- Beta-blockers and other treatments for high blood pressure or cardiovascular disease
- Dextroamphetamine (Adderall) and other treatments for attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD)
- Migraine medications, such as those containing ergotamine
- Decongestants, such as pseudoephedrine
- Hormonal contraceptives
- Hormone replacement therapy
- Statin drugs 12
How to warm up: Work with your doctor to adjust your medications if you are dealing with unpleasant side effects. It may also help to stay hydrated, eat a nutrient-rich diet, and get plenty of exercise.
7. Blood Sugar Issues, such as Diabetes
Because blood sugar spikes and crashes can affect kidneys and blood flow, without treatment, you may notice you always feel cold, especially your feet. Other symptoms associated with diabetes are urinating more often, feeling extremely hungry or thirsty, feeling tired and fatigued, vision disruptions, and slow wound healing.
How to warm up: Again, working with your doctor is important. While lifestyle changes and diet adjustments can dramatically help better manage blood sugar levels, you may also need medication or other interventions, especially if the disease has begun to progress or begins to affect the kidneys or nerves.
8. Peripheral Artery Disease (Atherosclerosis)
Caused by a buildup of plaque in the arteries, this disease can eventually restrict blood flow and interfere with the delivery of oxygen throughout the body. This can, in turn, lead you to feel cold all the time. It can also lead to pain, numbness, cramping, or tingling in the extremities, especially the legs and feet. And your skin may have a bluish tint. You may even notice your toenails aren’t growing like they used to. 13
Over time, this condition can lead to more dangerous conditions, including tissue death and increased risk of a stroke or heart attack.
How to warm up: Work with your doc to address risk factors like high blood pressure or smoking. Lifestyle changes to help improve circulation can often help. This includes regular exercise and improving your nutrition plan, as well as quitting smoking. Surgery and/or medication may also be recommended. 14 One of the most important ways to help improve circulation is to ensure you are drinking enough water. That includes replenishing lost fluids from exercise or when it’s hot.
Why Am I Always Cold: A Warm-Up
If you’re asking this question in the depth of winter in an old, drafty house, it’s probably because everyone is cold.
However, if you keep jacking up the temperature, piling on the layers, or shivering while everyone around you is shedding layers, it’s time to pay attention. Especially if the cold feeling is combined with other symptoms, make an appointment with your preferred health practitioner. It could be a sign of a health condition that needs to be addressed.
Some other ways to warmup include:
- Ensuring you’re getting enough sleep—if you are sleep deprived, go to bed earlier or nap during the day. 15
- Eating a healthy, nutrient-dense diet that includes a variety of vegetables and fruits, quality proteins, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates like whole grains for energy.
- Taking steps to decrease stress in your life.
- Drinking plenty of fluids to ensure you’re staying hydrated. If you’re cold, you may choose warm water or hot teas to help warm you from the inside.
- Enjoying a regular exercise program to get the blood moving.