University of Oulu

Human cold exposure, adaptation and performance in a northern climate

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Author: Mäkinen, Tiina M.1,2,3,4
Organizations: 1University of Oulu, Faculty of Medicine, Department of Physiology
2University of Oulu, Centre for Arctic Medicine
3University of Oulu, Thule Institute
4Finnish Institute of Occupational Health
Format: ebook
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 1.1 MB)
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Language: English
Published: 2006
Publish Date: 2006-05-23
Thesis type: Doctoral Dissertation
Defence Note: Academic Dissertation to be presented with the assent of the Faculty of Medicine, University of Oulu, for public discussion in the Auditorium of Kastelli Research Center (Aapistie 1), on June 2nd, 2006, at 12 noon
Reviewer: Doctor John W. Castellani
Professor Thomas F. Oltmanns


The purpose of the study was to examine the amount of cold exposure and factors affecting it at the population level in Finland, to determine what type of cold acclimatisation, if any, develops in urban residents in winter, and to find out whether cold acclimatisation or acclimation has a functional significance on psychological or physical performance. Tasks of low physical activity requiring attention and concentration (cognition, postural control) were assessed in cold.

In a cross-sectional population study Finns aged from 25 to 74 years (n=6,951) were queried of their wintertime outdoor exposure duration and factors affecting it. In experimental studies seasonal cold acclimatisation (thermal responses) and its effect on cognition were assessed in the laboratory, where 15 young urban subjects were exposed to cold in winter and summer in bright or dim light. A controlled cold acclimation trial (n=10) was performed to study the effects of repeated exposures to cold on cognitive performance and postural control in young urban subjects.

In the Finnish population the average amount of cold exposure in winter represents 4% of the total time. Most of the cold exposure occurs during leisure time and in outdoor occupations (agriculture, forestry, mining, industry, construction). Factors explaining increased occupational cold exposure were: occupation, age and a lesser amount of education. Factors associated with more leisure-time cold exposure were: being employed in outdoor occupations, being a pensioner, housewife, unemployed, practising physical exercise, and reporting at least average health. The experimental studies showed seasonal differences and aggravated thermal responses in urban residents in winter, but did not detect habituation responses typical of cold acclimatisation. In both seasons, acute moderate cold exposure resulted in positive, negative or mixed effects on cognition, reflected as changes in response times and accuracy. Simple cognitive tasks were impaired in cold, and in complex tasks both negative, positive and mixed effects were observed. It is suggested that cold exposure affects cognition through different mechanisms related to either distraction or arousal. Cold exposure increased postural sway by 70-90%, suggesting impaired postural control. Repeated exposures to moderate cold, reducing stress and discomfort and dampening physiological responses, did not markedly affect cognitive performance or postural control.

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Series: Acta Universitatis Ouluensis. D, Medica
ISSN-E: 1796-2234
ISBN: 951-42-8089-X
ISBN Print: 951-42-8088-1
Issue: 876
Copyright information: © University of Oulu, 2006. This publication is copyrighted. You may download, display and print it for your own personal use. Commercial use is prohibited.