January 19

HealthCast: Temperature Extremes

Weather has no biases, affecting everyone and everything. The weather had a direct influence on our evolution from the moment the human species walked upright. Even in today’s ever-evolving technology we live and die by the day-to-day variation in temperature. The human body has developed incredible ways, both physiological and technological, of managing temperature extremes.

Coping with Cold Weather

PIC3When the outside air temperature starts to dip below 57°F, the body temperature starts to drop. An increase in the body metabolism naturally curbs the decrease in core temperature. Eating food (especially protein) as well as hard exercise can boost the metabolic rate. Any physical activity can increase the body temperature by a few degrees.

Involuntary actions increase body temperature too. Think of when your body shivers in cold conditions. Tiny muscle fibers contract at the same time to keep the body temperature and metabolism steady.

Ever have your fingers and toes go numb in cold weather? Vasoconstriction is a physiological process in which the outermost blood vessels in the body constrict causing less blood to flow to the outer layers of skin. The outer extremities may lose warmth but ultimately less heat is available to be pulled away from the body by convection. Vasoconstriction helps to maintain a high core body temperature all the while protecting our internal vital organs at the expense of our fingers and toes.

Any body part that is exposed to below freezing temperatures is in danger of suffering from frostbite. Frostbite occurs when the surface tissue freezes. At this point the vasoconstriction process is in overdrive causing a minuscule amount of heat to reach the outer extremities.

People and Environment

Is the human body more equip for cold or warm climates? Keeping the body warm in cold conditions is terribly inefficient. The body shivers, increasing metabolism which sends warm blood to the outer extremities inevitably counteracting the vasoconstriction process.

The body responds much better to warm weather by sweating. The body has an estimated two million sweat glands that have the ability to lose about 2 liters per hour. This results in an incredible loss of heat as the sweat on the skin cools the air by the process of evaporation.

Turns out that humans like their weather climate not too hot, not too cold, but just right. Multiple studies have shown that people work more efficiently in a comfortable environment, one that is void of temperature extremes that could be distracting.















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