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Simple ways to stop losing body heat in the cold

| Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013, 2:57 p.m.

STROUDSBURG — Ever wonder if you really lose most of your heat through your head? Or if a hot bowl of chicken noodle soup will warm your innards on a cold day?

Keeping warm in the cold is simply a matter of preventing heat loss, according to Professor David Avreril of the Commonwealth Medical College in Scranton. He teaches physiology to first-year medical students.

Your body is a heat producer — the heat is a byproduct of various metabolic processes in our bodies. We eat stuff and burn it up. That generates heat, Avreril said.

But to prevent heat loss, we first must understand how we lose heat.

Heat is on the move

Our bodies constantly transfer heat to the environment around us.

We lose heat in four ways:

• First, we radiate heat. It's the transfer of heat in the form of electromagnetic energy. Your body loses heat by radiating it. Block the waves, and you'll stop the heat loss.

Radiation heat transfer is the most common way your body loses heat. The best way to prevent it is to cover up, insulate yourself and keep those waves from escaping your body.

• The second way we lose heat is through conduction — by having physical contact with another body. An example is sitting on a rock that feels cold. The bigger the rock surface that contacts your body, the greater your heat loss.

• Imagine the wind is blowing, and the air around you that your body just warmed is constantly being blown away and replaced with new, unheated air. The gradient increases again, and you feel colder. This is what's known as the wind chill factor. Your body loses even more heat.

• The final process is evaporative heat transfer. It's when we lose heat from within our body as it converts water to water vapor. That takes a lot of energy, Avreril said. But it's a particularly good way to cool the body down.

One example is sweating. But in the winter, we lose heat by producing water vapor in another way — by talking.

“When we breathe, we actually lose some heat because some of the water in our airways can be converted to a gas,” Avreril said. “So every time we breathe, we lose heat.”

Stay covered

So, how do we stay warm while we are walking from our car to the mall?

Increasing the insulation around you reduces the amount of heat we lose through radiation, conduction and convection, Avreril said. That's why having a good coat is really important.

Do we really lose most of our heat through our heads?

Yes and no.

The head is no different from any other body part, and remember: The heat loss is a function of the exposed surface area.

But what do we do when we go out in the cold? We put on a jacket. Yet we often leave our heads bare, therefore causing our greatest heat loss.

It's no different from if you forgot your gloves, although the hands involve a lot less surface area, and therefore less heat loss.

So what's the good professor's best advice for staying warm during these frigid winter months?

“Don't go out when it's really cold and windy,” he said.

Why didn't we think of that?

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