Cold Adaptation

In 2004 I had the idea of adapting to the cold. Here’s how the thinking went. Let’s see if it is possible to go year-round with just wearing a T-shirt. I reasoned, the body is capable of adapting. How far can it go? I won’t want the step to be too big because adaptation won’t keep up and there will be more discomfort than need be. At the same time, the step has to be big enough to initiate a change. When is it cold? During winter. When is it hot? During summer. Let’s err on the side of comfort. Daily fluctuations should be manageable. After all, barring exceptional events, if an organism can’t handle the day-to-day environment then it’s not looking good for surviving and thriving. So, a commitment to a daily practice it is, and it has to start early enough. August is warm enough to wear just a T-shirt. September is getting trickier, especially late-September. This is where we’ll start. It is also perfect because school starts then as well and I’ll be outside every morning and evening biking to and from school.

Adaptation is phenomenal. Apart from a handful of days, it was just the T-shirt. On exceptionally cold days a light sweater was worn but sleeves remained pushed up over the elbows. Physiology is a remarkable thing. Let’s face it, other animals don’t have a home with central heating, or even the dexterity to create a fire. Wolves can survive a cold winter. How do they do it? Well, we’re not wolves, you say. I say, we weren’t always the humans we are today. In fact, we’re a long line of successful reproduction starting from the very first living organisms. Some species went through an ice age. If they didn’t have mechanisms to cope with the cold, how would they survive? And if they are capable of coping, do modern versions of that old species still carry that capability? Chances are good that the modern ones kept that ability. Think about the genome research. Humans have a lot of DNA in common with chimpanzees, but we also have quite a lot in common with plants. Does nature just throw out working DNA? I don’t think so. Maybe it never happens. After all, it is hard won, and the environment might change into something that came before. Then it will come in handy. Have you ever kept something old that you replaced with a newer version just in case you need it as a back-up? So here we are. The latest iterations in a long line of evolution. Let’s see what we are really capable of versus what convention is teaching us. Shoes because we need support. Stay out of a breeze because you’ll get cold. Put on sunscreen. The list is long.

Here are some things I’ve learned during that time of cycling in the cold:

  • Balancing comfort and boundaries. Start small, take small steps, big changes at the end.
  • Making a fist, with the thumb wrapped by the four fingers, is surprisingly helpful in conserving heat.
  • When walking and holding the arms downward versus when riding a bike and having the arms forward, makes a big difference. It is remarkably warmer when holding the arms down. The tunnel that is created by sleeves from a jacket or sweater can work for you or against you. The air inside insulates when you keep your arms down. When riding a bike it just captures cold air, constantly. Seal off the entrance. This can be done simply by grabbing the end with your fingers.
  • When adapting, start with ridding yourself of your hat and mittens first. Then move on to the arms and legs. And finally the torso.
  • You don’t get a cold from a breeze, nor from the wet-hair-breeze combination. You get a cold from catching the virus, which can happen any time, and at the same time having a compromised immune system, which is likely happening due to lack of sleep.
  • People think they are cold because they can’t handle the initial shock when the slightest breeze hits them. You’re not. It’s likely just the wind.
  • Morning chills wake you up. Cold is beneficial for your mood.