Why Are Women Always Cold and Men Always Hot?

The battle of the sexes often turns into a battle over the thermostat when men and women live or work together. That's because women always seem to be cold while men always seem to be hot. What's behind this, and how can men and women achieve climate control?

There are four major anatomical differences between men and women that mean they heat and cool their bodies differently.

1. Blood Vessels

Women's blood vessels are usually located further from the skin surface than men's. This is important because when blood vessels are close to the skin, warm blood makes the skin warmer. Blood vessels located further from the skin surface don't warm the skin the same way.

Women have more constricted blood vessels, too, which leads to less warm blood reaching the skin surface. Women also pull blood to the body's core in order to retain heat and keep their reproductive system toasty. Men, on the other hand, need to keep their reproductive organs cool and therefore blood and heat are shunted away from the core and out to the skin. The result is women have colder skin and extremities than men.

2. Skin

Men have thicker, oilier, and hairier skin than women, and those elements provide men better insulation from the cold.

3. Muscles

Men have denser muscle mass then women, which means they have a faster metabolism to warm their body, as well as more insulation. The more fit a woman is, the more muscle mass she has, and the less likely she is to feel cold. However, fat provides insulation too, and women who are very lean and fit may not have enough to keep warm.

4. Hormones

Women have more hormonal fluctuations than men. Their basal body temperature (resting body temperature) changes slightly throughout their menstrual cycle, and perimenopausal and menopausal women may experience hot flashes, which can lead to chills as the body's thermostat regulates itself. Women are also more prone to hypothyroidism (an under active thyroid gland) than men. The thyroid gland plays a big role in body temperature regulation; feeling colder is a symptom of hypothyroidism.

The Thermostat Factor

There's another factor at play here: thermostat settings. The standard used to determine ideal indoor temperature both in the U.S. and Europe is based on the metabolic rate (how quickly heat is generated) of the average man, according to researchers at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. But the average woman's metabolic rate is 20 to 35 percent lower than the average mans. In practice, this might mean that men prefer a thermostat set to 70F, while women are more likely to feel comfortable at 75F, one of the study's authors told The New York Times.

Can chronic chilliness indicate a health problem? "Once in a while, feeling extra cold can be a symptom of a medical condition," says Liesa Harte, MD, a functional medicine physician in Austin, Texas. "Sometimes it indicates a person hasn't consumed enough calories. More often though, it's just a normal variation in physiology."

To maintain peace and comfort at home and the office, try the following:

  • Agree upon a specific, set temperature that keeps both genders reasonably comfortable (say, 72.5F).
  • Dress in layers, and add or remove them as needed.
  • Invest in insulating undergarments that wick away perspiration and help keep the body warm or cool.
  • Lower the thermostat at night. Add blankets or kick them off as needed.
  • Use a small fan or space heater.
  • While these suggestions won't eliminate all battles of the sexes, a more comfortable body temperature might cool off some hot tempers.

Liesa Harte, MD, reviewed this article.

Sources

Harte, Liesa, MD. Email interview February 18, 2016.

Kingma, Boris, and Wouter Van Marken Lichtenbelt. "Energy Consumption in Buildings and Female Thermal Demand."Nature Climate Change Nature Climate Change 2015 5,12: 1054-056.

"Hypothyroidism." American Thyroid Association. February 24, 2016.

Belluck, Pam. "Chilly at Work? Office Formula Was Designed for Men." The New York Times. August 3, 2015.