Remember how, as a child, you’d play your days away in the snow? The sun would move overhead from its mid-noon position to late afternoon and you’d never be bored of building one snow fort after the other, digging underground tunnels, or rolling avalanche-triggering-sized snowballs. Now, do you ever remember feeling cold even after spending hours upon hours outdoors?
Most likely not, but while we may have been too preoccupied with avoiding snowballs targeted at us from our siblings, friends, or neighbours –there’s also some scientific explanation for why we never noticed the cold as children.
Pain threshold in children begins to change when puberty begins, and as with most forms of maturity, girls grow faster. Boys were able to tolerate and endure the painful cold longer. Researchers used the cold pressor task, which involves immersing a hand in ice cold water for one minute. The study, conducted by German researchers, was published in the European Journal of Pain.
Psychologically, kids don’t like being bundled up in that snowsuit
It also owes a lot to the fact that children are incredible active, which keeps their bodies warm and mind off the cold. Children would much rather wear fewer layers and be active than multiple layers of sweaters, pants, coats, and snowpants. They don’t like to be bundled up; it makes them feel constricted, a pediatrician told NPR.
Children are born naked and that is their preferred state because they can best handle sensory information without constriction or limitation. Wearing clothes and layers is an adjustment kids develop over time.
Physiologically, their bodies are warmer
Children generate 20-25 per cent more heat for their bodies than an adult can during physical activity. They can also generate body heat more efficiently than adults because of their higher metabolic rates. Kids are unable to sweat as much as adults (they have fewer sweat glands!), which also lessens their ability to get rid of heat from their bodies.
Just because they don’t feel cold, doesn’t mean they don’t get cold
Compared to adults, children have more surface area (of skin) than body weight, especially in leaner children. This makes children more vulnerable to heat loss than adults. If exposed without protection in the cold, their core body temperature may drop quickly.
This carries less of a risk for hypothermia in adults, because we have better cold perception mechanisms, which will remind us to remove ourselves from the environment to a warmer place. In children, however, it is risky because they may be overly ambitious and stay in the cold longer since they have not developed a cold defense mechanism.
Although, pediatricians are saying children are safe to play outside as long as they are bundled up. The risks of cold exposure certainly do not outweigh the health benefits of physical activity.
We might not see as many children playing outside today as we used to, but remember, it could (and used to) be worse. As we were reminded by yesterday’s Google Doodle –which commemorated Canada’s coldest day in history (a bone-chilling -63 C in 1947!) – today’s -5 C (in Toronto, anyway) is practically balmy.
Do you ever remember feeling cold as a child? Or maybe getting sick from a too-long stint in the snow? Let us know in the comments!
Diana Duong. Bright-eyed and skeptical. Swears by the Mayo Clinic. Night owl. Pretty good about flossing. Tree-hugger.