Biology: Why women freeze faster than men

While men often still wear t-shirts, women are already wearing thick sweaters and cozy socks.

Biology: Why women freeze faster than men

While men often still wear t-shirts, women are already wearing thick sweaters and cozy socks. The fact that women freeze faster is neither an illusion nor a cliché, but has biological reasons. When the outside temperature drops, the blood vessels constrict to emit less heat to the outside. The circulation is concentrated in the center of the body so that the vital organs are adequately supplied with blood. Arms and legs, on the other hand, cool down - icy feet or hands are the result.

This mechanism starts earlier in women, at around 15 degrees Celsius, reports the Barmer health insurance company. Men only freeze at a few degrees less. The fact that women have a different perception of cold is due to the different distribution of sex hormones in the two sexes. Men produce significantly more testosterone, which leads to more muscle mass. This makes up about 40 percent of body weight, in women, however, only 25 percent. More muscles also generate more heat, which is why men are less likely to get cold.

"Men carry around a kind of small oven that warms them up inside," explains Heidi Günther, a pharmacist at Barmer. Women have higher estrogen levels and therefore more fatty tissue. While in men only 15 percent of body weight consists of fat, in women it is 24 percent. These are absolutely necessary so that the woman's body is prepared for pregnancy. Because the fat, as an energy store, ensures that mother and child are adequately supplied.

However, the fatty tissue separates the skin from the warming muscles. "On the one hand, the fatty tissue insulates the inside of the body from the skin. But the skin perceives the temperature of the body from the outside, so that the skin of the woman feels cooler than that of the man," quotes the "Tagesschau" Georg Ertl, internist at the University Hospital of Würzburg. Men also have thicker skin, which further insulates the body.

Humans aren't the only creatures where the sexes perceive temperature differently. Zoologist Eran Levin from Tel Aviv University has found in many animals that females often choose warmer places than males - such as kangaroos, baboons, lemurs, some bird species and bats.

The scientist suspects that the reason for this lies in reproduction. For females, higher temperatures have “important physiological implications for functions that are specifically female,” the “Tagesschau” quotes the experts as saying. In concrete terms, this means that heat plays a decisive role in the function of the reproductive organs. "The incubation of eggs, for example, or the fetus. Or the thermoregulation of newborns," it says.

What is beneficial for reproduction proves to be a disadvantage for the brain. The 2019 "Battle for the Thermostat" study showed that depending on the temperature, cognitive performance also changes in men and women. More than 500 subjects had to solve mentally demanding tasks at different temperatures between 16 and 33 degrees: math and language tasks, which were then evaluated. Each degree increased the performance of the women measurably. From 30 degrees, they ran to peak performance.

Men scored at lower temperatures. The best form of the male subjects was below 20 degrees. With increasing temperatures, their performance decreased. These results could be particularly important this winter, when offices and workplaces should remain cooler in the wake of the gas crisis. So that women do not have to lose their performance, physician Ertl recommends warming individual parts of the body in a targeted manner, because "if the extremities are warm, then the body itself no longer needs to be so warm". So perhaps hats or socks will soon become staples for the female office worker.

Sources: Barmer, "Battle for the thermostat", Bavarian Radio, "Tagesschau"