Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Colder Older

You can debate the cause, haggle over the actions needed or not, and try and link current worldwide shifts to it. But the underlying data and science is indisputable: the world is getting warmer. That has implications for food production, as warmer weather favors some crops and threatens others. It will have health repercussions, as more moderate climates will increase the prevalence of some diseases while decreasing others. And in this country, with 39% of the population living in counties that are directly on the shoreline, rising ocean levels due to ice melt will reshape our population centers, driving people inland. Oklahoma City could well be the new Miami.

So if it's getting warmer, why am I so cold?

Yes, I know it's turning to winter, and the weather snapped last week from 40 on Tuesday morning to sub 20 wind-chills by lunch. But then this week it's inching its way back up, with forecasted 60 degrees or better for mid-November. There is some research that suggests that these increasing and unusual swings are also a result of global warming. Called "weather whiplash," it's not so much these "but I just pulled out my heavy coat, and now you're telling me I just need a windbreaker?" kinds of days. It's a more wholesale change in the overall seasonal variation, the kind that makes for a wetter than normal spring or dryer than normal fall, where the resulting outcome is that crops don't grow.

Still, on a personal level, while I know I should care about the wheat harvest, I'm more concerned about why I feel the need for wool socks. It's true we keep our house colder than many. With a big house, four heating zones and just two of us bouncing around, we use setback thermostats and active fiddling to get heat only where we need it. My wife and I have more or less mastered the situation, pushing up the temperature selectively as we inhabit certain spaces, augmented by almost always having on multiple layers of clothing. That would also explain why our oldest came home for a visit, and appeared at breakfast in a sweatshirt with the hood pulled up. We had forgotten that other, less hearty souls were entering our custom environment, where polarfleece is de rigeur.

But regardless of the wider and wilder swings outside, we are master of the inside. Still, as I sit here writing, my feet are colder than usual. It turns out that there is good scientific explanation here as well, and it has nothing to do with climate change per se. Yes, there is a chance that I have an underlying medical condition that is causing my discomfort, something like hypertension or diabetes. It could also a side effect of the daily medications I take, just as some antihistamines cause increased sensitivity to light. But as with most things, the simplest explanation is most likely the most correct: I'm simply getting older.

Turns out your mother was right: she really was feeling colder than you, even if she made you put on a sweater too. As we age, our metabolic responses slow down, as well as our circulation. The net of that is that we feel colder even if the temperature is constant. Interestingly, studies have also shown that older people may have lower temperatures in general.  According to a study done at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, CA, mean body temperature decreased with age. In fact, low body temperature turns out to be biomarker for longevity. But the science is still unclear on the correlation itself: are the older colder, or the colder older?

Either way you look at it, I've been pushing the thermostat up sooner and further. Should you come to visit, you can rest assured it will be more comfy and you can safely take off your scarf. By the same token, when I come to your place or head out to work, expect me to almost always have a fleece on over my shirt and under my coat. For now at least, I'll just try and adjust for my own world, and leave the big picture forecasting to the experts to figure out. Or as ex-Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda noted, "The only way I'll worry about the weather is if it snows on our side of the field and not theirs."


Marc Wollin of Bedford just bought a new setback thermostat for the bedroom. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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