Why do I have cold hands when I work out?

  • Fitness
  • Friday, 02 Aug 2019

A warm cup of coffee or tea does wonders for cold hands. - 123rf.com

We are fortunate to live in a climate where we don’t need to layer our clothes to keep warm.

And as a chubby nation, most of us have enough natural insulation to tackle the little chills that come along every now and then.

But, if you’re like me and suffer from cold (not damp) hands in an air-conditioned environment while exercising or post-workout, then you need to layer up or find out what is wrong.

Though my insides feel warm, my limbs are often cold. I may have worked up a great sweat, but my hands will still be cold.

Consultations with numerous doctors and alternative healing practitioners since young have revealed that my icy fingers (and sometimes, nose) are due to my poor blood circulation and is no cause for concern.

Having cold hands is part of our body’s natural mechanism as it tries to regulate body temperature.

In my case, my body just takes longer to adjust. At work, you’ll often find me clutching a hot mug with both hands.

If I’m outdoors or somewhere with just a fan, then my hands feel “normal”.

But I have to change out of my wet workout clothes immediately, because not only do my hands get cold pretty quickly, but I’ll also start shivering.

For this reason, I dread getting out of the swimming pool, especially when there is a breeze.

I need to run straight to the sauna or steam room, or have a hot Milo as soon as I emerge from the water!

Check your blood circulation

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A muscular person can withstand cold better as muscle is a producer of heat. — Photos: AFP

A simple way to find out the status of your blood circulation is to check your pulse at the wrists and your nail capillary refill.

You can check your capillary refill by applying pressure to a fingernail or toenail – it should turn white with pressure and rapidly (less than three seconds) return to a normal pink colour when the pressure is released.

If it does not return within the stipulated period, this delay could indicate a circulation problem at the limb. Do note that a cold environment will naturally delay a capillary refill.

At lower temperatures, your body redistributes blood to the torso to protect and maintain the warmth of the vital organs housed in this area.

At the same time, your body constricts blood flow to the skin, which affects the upper extremities, resulting in cold hands.

The longer the exposure, the longer the hands stay colder than normal.

Apparently, differences in body sizes, fat percentages and metabolic rates can affect how we experience cold.

The petite ones with lower levels of body fat tend to lose more heat to the environment than bigger-built people, who have ample protective padding.

On the opposite spectrum, there are plenty of skinny people with high levels of body fat, and have no problems being in the cold. Their hands stay nice and toasty in all environments!

Someone with increased or well-defined overall muscles can also withstand cold better, as muscle is a producer of heat.

Women often have a high surface area to mass ratio, so they tend to lose heat more quickly after a workout than men do, making them more predisposed to having cold hands.

However, according to the Mayo Clinic in the United States, you should worry and seek medical advice if you have persistently cold hands accompanied by colour changes.

It could be a warning sign of a problem with your nerves or blood circulation, or a problem with tissue damage in your hands or fingers.

Other signs and symptoms to watch for when you have cold hands include cold feet or toes; changes to the skin colour of your hands, such as your skin turning blue or white; numbness or tingling; open sores or blisters; and tightened or hardened skin.

Certain medications can also contribute to cold hands.

Another possible cause of cold hands is anxiety and this can occur in any temperature.

When the mind is anxious, the body secretes stress hormones into the bloodstream where they travel to targeted spots in the body to bring about specific

physiological, psychological and emotional changes that enhance the body’s ability to deal with a threat by fighting or fleeing from it.

These changes can cause a wide range of sensations and symptoms, including cold hands and/or feet.

As long as the fight-or-flight response is activated, your cold hands and feet are likely to persist.

This is why when people are feeling nervous or frightened, they may have cold hands and feet.

There are certain yoga poses and breathing techniques that can help to improve blood circulation, but that’s an article for another day.

Consider wearing layers

Workout, cold hands, athletes, layering clothes, keeping warm, Manchester City, football, Star2.com
Professional athletes know the importance of keeping warm by layering their clothes before practice or a game.

Unless you’re a professional athlete who knows the importance of keeping the body warm before an event, most of us will rarely take the trouble to layer up.

Putting on a workout top, then a lighter t-shirt, followed by a sweater or light jacket (shorts or pants over tights for the bottom), is just too cumbersome for normal people – fashionistas excluded.

Wearing so many pieces of clothing also means more laundry, and with our regular water disruptions lately, we could all do with less washing and more conserving.

So, we end up walking into the gym wearing our regular workout gear, hoping it will suffice and do the job.

I’m guilty of this all the time – rush in, work out, shower (if there’s water), change clothes, exit.

Ideally, instead of donning a single thick layer, people like me should wear multiple thin layers to help keep us warmer.

As the body gradually heats up from activity, remove a layer to reduce the amount of heat trapped, which should cool us down bit by bit.

If you’ve tried everything, see a medical practitioner and if your hands are still cold after your exercise session, just bear with it.

After all, the warmth will return once the body goes back to its natural state in its preferred environment.

And as the expression goes: Cold hands, warm hearts!

Revathi Murugappan is a certified fitness trainer who tries to battle gravity and continues to dance to express herself artistically and nourish her soul. For more information, email starhealth@thestar.com.my. The information provided is for educational purposes only and should not be considered as medical advice. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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