Health News

Heat and cold as health hazards

Both hot and cold environments trigger a stress response in the human body and can lead to cardiovascular problems. Physiologist Justin Lawley from the Department of Sport Science at the University of Innsbruck and colleagues have recently investigated both factors in scientific studies. The results, which were published in the Journals Scientific Reports and Experimental Physiology, are especially interesting in light of the current multiple global crises.

The climate and energy crises are currently among the greatest challenges of our time and are having a direct physical effect on people’s health. For example, the climate crisis is causing more frequent, longer and more intense heat waves, which are responsible for more deaths than natural disasters. Moreover, the energy crisis is causing a rise in energy costs and forcing many households to heat their homes less often or not at all.

The physiological responses to a simulated heat wave and cold ambient temperatures have now been investigated by Justin Lawley, together with his research group, the Laboratory of Exercise and Environmental Physiology, and international scientists in two studies — the focus was on the cardiovascular system. “In both studies, we replicated real-world environmental temperatures the body might be exposed to and were able to show physiological responses that could help explain known seasonal variations in cardiovascular deaths,” explains Lawley.

Heat study

As part of the Horizon 2020 Heat Shield project, Lawley’s group collaborated with colleagues from Slovenia to examine how heat waves affect the health of industrial workers. Seven male participants spent nine consecutive regular workdays in a controlled laboratory setting.

On the first and last three days, normal summer temperatures for Central European conditions ranged from 25.1 to 25.7 degrees during work and 21.8 to 22.8 degrees during rest periods. Days four through six represented the heat wave; during this period, researchers created ambient temperatures between 35.2 and 35.8 degrees during work periods and 25.5 to 27.1 degrees during rest periods including while sleeping at night. During the entire study, participants completed daily tasks to simulate typical industrial work.

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