Human cold exposure, adaptation, and performance in high latitude environments

Am J Hum Biol. 2007 Mar-Apr;19(2):155-64. doi: 10.1002/ajhb.20627.


Cold exposure is present to significant amounts in the everyday occupational and leisure time activities of circumpolar residents. A cross-sectional population study demonstrated that Finns reported being exposed to cold on average 4% of their total time. Factors modifying cold exposure are: age, gender, employment, education, health, and amount of physical exercise. Several symptoms and complaints are associated with wintertime cold exposure and start to appear more commonly when temperatures decrease below -10 degrees C. Urban circumpolar people do not evidently demonstrate cold acclimatization responses in terms of changes in thermoregulation, probably due to behavioral factors (adequate protective clothing, short cold exposures, and high housing temperatures). With regard to performance, we observed that moderate cold exposure, which may occur in everyday life, affects cognition negatively through the mechanisms of distraction and both positively and negatively through the mechanism of arousal (increased vigilance). It seems that especially simple cognitive tasks are adversely affected by cold, while in more complex tasks performance may even improve in mild or moderate cold. Repeated, short cold exposures in the laboratory, causing cold habituation responses, do not markedly improve neuromuscular or cognitive performance. The article discusses the functional significance of cold exposure, adaptation, and the specific environmental conditions and physiological mechanisms that affect behavior and performance in high latitude environments.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acclimatization / physiology*
  • Arctic Regions
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Cold Climate / adverse effects*
  • Cold Temperature / adverse effects*
  • Finland
  • Geography
  • Humans
  • Seasons