If you’re suiting up for one of winter’s many cold weather calorie-burners, a warm hat is probably one of the first pieces you reach for, because you know that body heat is lost through the head. But as it turns out, that kindergarten factoid might actually be nothing more than a cool myth.
This particular rumor has been adrift for so long, it’s hard to convince people that it’s just not true. But a study in the Journal of Applied Physiology, published in 2005, found that the head loses about the same amount of heat, for its size, as the rest of the body–which is around 10%, and a far cry from being the “majority.” But that doesn’t mean your face and head don’t get colder than the rest of your body–they’re more sensitive to temperature changes than, say, the extremities, so exposure of those areas may make people feel like they’re losing more heat
The basis of this myth is hotly disputed. Some point to a military study from 1970 (though I was unable to actually find such a a study, or anyone who could directly reference it by name), which found that soldiers in the arctic lost “45 to 50%” of their body heat through their heads. However, others reference an article in Wilderness Medicine, which instructed outdoorsmen to always cover their heads.
Meanwhile, CNN once claimed in an article debunking this sort of myth that the origin could be the fact that infants lose more heat through their heads than adults, which may have lead many grown-ups to assume that their bodies work similarly. But, regardless of the roots, the result is the same–a highly perpetuated myth that’s just not true.
This “fact”‘s status as a falsehood doesn’t mean you should step into the snow with your noggin bare. You do lose some heat out the top, and popping a cap on is the best way to keep it in–especially if you’re moving around. Additionally, if you’re working out, the increased circulation means you’ll be shedding more heat in general, so removing or adding a hat can be one of the easiest ways to comfortably regulate your body temperature (while keeping your ears warm and your hair out of your face).
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