Muscle more important than fat in regulating heat loss from the hands

February 14, 2018, University of Cambridge
Multiple thermal images of hands from the study, showing a range of different temperatures among volunteers who took part in the study. Credit: S. Payne

In the first study of its kind, Cambridge biological anthropologists have shown that muscle mass is able to predict the rate of heat loss from the hands during severe cold exposure, while body mass, stature and fat mass do not.

According to Stephanie Payne, lead author of the study published this week in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, "Hands have a large surface area-to-volume ratio, which can be a challenge to maintaining thermal balance in cold conditions. We wanted to study the influence of body size and body composition on and rewarming in the hands to determine whether they affect temperature and dexterity in cold conditions."

These results are important for understanding our thermoregulation (the body's ability to regulate its temperature), according to Payne. "We always thought that fat (acting as insulation) was the most crucial factor in thermoregulation, but it's actually muscle playing the vital role. The body is this amazing, dynamic system which uses muscle to generate heat to keep the rest of the body warm, including your hands."

Volunteers from around Cambridge, including University students and local residents, took part in the study. After having their vital statistics taken and body composition analysed to measure the amount of fat and , each volunteer plunged their hands into ice cold water for three minutes. The rate at which volunteers' hands heated up again was measured and recorded using a .

Volunteers were of European origin and aged between 18 and 50. Payne further explains, "Many populations across the globe have developed vasoregulatory adaptations to deal with severe cold. Some populations lose blood flow to the hands very quickly to make sure they retain their body heat internally, whilst others, for example the Inuit, have periodic pulses of blood to the hands to combat frostbite."

As a National Geographic Young Explorer, Stephanie is currently researching human populations from across the globe with her next study focusing on proportions from Himalayan populations.

Payne also predicts possible commercial uses for this type of study. "Being aware of the effects of on how cold your hands get is crucial. For example, women and children are less likely to have a high so cold-weather gear, such as gloves, should be produced and marketed with that in mind."

Stephanie is part of the Phenotypic Adaptability, Variation and Evolution (PAVE) group and is a current PhD student and recipient of a Trinity Hall Graduate Research Studentship

Explore further: Women's hands really are colder than men's, scientists confirm

More information: Stephanie Payne et al, Body size and body composition effects on heat loss from the hands during severe cold exposure, American Journal of Physical Anthropology (2018). DOI: 10.1002/ajpa.23432

Related Stories

Women's hands really are colder than men's, scientists confirm

December 8, 2017
Ladies, raise a gloved hand if your hands feel as frozen as Elsa's, especially in the winter.

Debunking winter weather myths

January 16, 2017
(HealthDay)—A hot toddy may seem like a good way to stay toasty on a freezing day because it makes blood rush to your skin's surface. But drinking alcohol actually speeds heat loss, according to experts.

Mayo Clinic minute: Three tips for healthy fitness during winter

February 13, 2018
Frigid winter temperatures may make you want to skip your workout and curl up in a blanket indoors, but it's important not to let the weather affect your exercise plan. Dr. Sara Filmalter, a Mayo Clinic sports medicine specialist, ...

Tips for safe winter workouts

December 22, 2013
(HealthDay)—If you exercise outdoors during the winter, be sure to do so safely, an expert says.

Hypothermia and older adults

January 7, 2014
Frigid weather can pose special risks to older adults. The National Institute on Aging (NIA), part of the National Institutes of Health, has some advice for helping older people avoid hypothermia—when the body gets too ...

Recommended for you

Parental life span predicts daughters living to 90 without chronic disease or disability

August 15, 2018
Researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine report that women whose mothers lived to at least age 90 were more likely to also live to 90, free of serious diseases and disabilities.

Widespread declines in life expectancy across high income countries coincide with rising young adult, midlife mortality

August 15, 2018
The ongoing opioid epidemic in the United States is a key contributor to the most recent declines in life expectancy, suggests a study published by The BMJ today.

Diets high in vegetables and fish may lower risk of multiple sclerosis

August 15, 2018
People who consume a diet high in vegetables and fish may have a reduced risk of multiple sclerosis, new research led by Curtin University has found.

Can sleeping too much lead to an early death?

August 15, 2018
A recent study in the Journal of the American Heart Association has led to headlines that will make you rethink your Saturday morning sleep in.

Mixing energy drinks with alcohol could enhance the negative effects of binge drinking

August 14, 2018
A key ingredient of energy drinks could be exacerbating some of the negative effects of binge drinking according to a new study.

New study finds fake, low-quality medicines prevalent in the developing world

August 10, 2018
A new study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that substandard and falsified medicines, including medicines to treat malaria, are a serious problem in much of the world. In low- and middle-income ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.