Back in the day, I will never forget queuing for nightclubs in the midst of bleak Northern English winters. Scantily clad and waif like females wearing next to nothing in the driving hail. My Mother always warned me to wear a coat and cover up my kidneys to avoid catching my death of cold. Unlike most teenagers, I took note and did what she said. Not because I was a model teenager, in fact far from it, but more to the point, because I have always felt the cold.
At university, being a poor student, in an equally poorly insulated house, I recall wearing my entire wardrobe to stay warm in bed. Woolly hat, socks, thermal pyjamas, jumpers, the list goes on! By my mid twenties. I had had enough. I moved to Sydney for some warmth. It did not take long to acclimatise to warmer climes. Each winter, I would gradually regress back to my university days, layering up to stay warm.
After almost a decade in Sydney, we moved on again, this time to tropical Far North Queensland and specifically to Cairns, the dive capital of Australia. The first year in Cairns was great, tropical temperatures, year round. Alas, after a while, my blood thinned and I regressed once more. Digging out my thermal pyjamas for those cold, sub 25 degrees nights!
In diving, despite having completed countless tropical dives, I have certainly never been too warm on a dive! Mostly, I am either just ok, cold or too cold. I suppose I have learned to cope with this feeling of cold. Layering up like my university days, I don’t just have one thermal under layer to my wetsuit, but at times three under layers, two hoods, gloves, socks booties and the lot.
So am I just a big girl? My husband certainly has this view. Being cold does not stop me from diving, but I would certainly prefer not to be cold! I always thought I was special, I, for some reason felt the cold more than others. Then I read an article in a magazine. Not a diving magazine, but a popular (and trashy) women’s magazine. Now, being in a women’s magazine, this was not a diving article, rather an article on transsexuals. So what does an article on transsexuals have to do with diving I hear you ask? Well, for the person in question, as the transformation progressed from female to male, the key difference that they raised was that they no longer felt the cold! They could go out in a short sleeved shirt and not even think about it! So is feeling the cold perhaps the female equivalent of man flu? What I am really trying to ask is do women suffer more than men with cold on dives?
Following a fair bit of research, I have concluded that I am in fact not a wimp! Rather, there are key physiological factors that may explain my apparent wimp like tendancies when it comes to feeling cold.
Let’s start with some basics. Water is a better conductor of heat than air, in fact, it is 20 times better. That’s why we do tend to get colder much more quickly in water than we do in the same air temperature. Whilst there are definitely differences in how people respond to cold or feel the cold, there does appear to be differences in why women feel the cold more quickly than men.
Blood vessels in our bodies can dilate and constrict. One factor that is known to cause constriction (known as vasoconstriction), is ambient temperature. For some reason, women appear to experience vasoconstriction as a result of temperature sooner, and to a higher degree than men. Another factor here is that women are generally smaller than men. With a smaller size but a consequential larger surface area, women lose heat more quickly than men. A double whammy for us females!
Women do generally have a higher percentage of fatty tissue than men, which should be a good thing as fat tends to preserve heat well. However, this is offset by the fact that women are also generally less muscular than men. Muscle creates body heat during exercise such as diving, so our Beyonce bottoms don’t really help here!
So in summary, time for you guys to give us girls a break. Stop jibing me for my layering, shivering and blue lips. I am cold, not because I am a wimp, but for known physiological reason! I love my thermal tops, my hoods, booties and socks. I’ll never let the cold stop me getting wet, but forgive me if I am not always as enthusiastic as I should be on temperate water dives!