This happens inside your body when the indoor temperature is lowered

Wed 09 Nov 2022 10:39

In times of energy shortages and electricity savings, we are encouraged to lower the temperature indoors. But what happens to the body when the degrees are lowered and when does it become dangerous? Erika Schagatay is a professor of zoophysiology, the study of how bodies work. She has the answers.

Erika Schagatay

— Here in the Nordic countries the normal room temperature is 22-23 degrees. If you wear thin clothes and lower the temperature a few degrees, it will feel a little bit cold. The body then has to maintain the internal temperature by shaking, that is, the muscles contract regularly, and by not circulating as much blood under the skin; the outer blood vessels can be switched off and it reduces heat loss to the environment. There is also another heating system in the body, which increases metabolism without contracting the muscles. Both are stimulated when the ambient temperature falls. You can therefore keep the heat in the “core” of the body stable (dry 37 degrees) even in a colder environment, within certain limits, as long as you have plenty of energy," says Erika Schagatay, a researcher at NVC, National Winter Sports Centre. 

If you do not maintain an internal body temperature of just over 37 degrees, it can drop to an extent when it becomes dangerous. If your internal body temperature drops to under 35 degrees you will get hypothermia. One symptom of hypothermia is that you become confused and that strength and mobility deteriorate.

“There are many processes in the body that are affected as the temperature drops, if the body temperature drops below 30 degrees, the heart is also affected and you can die,” says Erika Schagatay. 

Simple tricks to use in the cold

For one to get sick and die because the indoor temperature drops by a few degrees, there is little risk. Older people with little muscle mass, little body fat and perhaps even poor circulation can suffer from a cooling that is unhealthy at ambient temperatures below 20 degrees. For most people, there are simple tricks to use in order not to freeze. Put on more clothes and try to move around more, for example.

What happens if you lower the temperature by 2 degrees? 

It depends on how hot it was before you lowered it, was it 30 degrees or 20 degrees? If you lower the indoor temperature from 22 to 20 degrees, your body adjusts quickly. It is also possible to adjust if it gets even colder, but it takes a little longer, up to a few weeks. 

Not only negative for the body

People with rheumatism and certain musculoskeletal disorders can have a tough time in the cold. Above all, it can get cold when the body tries to save the heat for the “core” — the core that should always be just over 37 degrees — and thus turns off peripheral parts. 

It can be tricky to work at the computer as the fine motor skills of the fingers get worse. But you also get used to warming up your hands and feet in a cold environment after a while. It is a reaction called cold-induced vasodilation, it is when the fine motor skills become good again. “They acclimate,” explains Erika Schagatay. 

There may also be some advantages to a colder indoor temperature. Erika explains:

If you aren’t too uncomfortable in the cold, your body actually uses more energy when it’s cold. And as long as you‘re not too thin, maybe that isn't a bad thing.

How requested is your research right now? 

There is a lot of interest in it, both from the press and private individuals. Not only about the cold but also about how heat affects the body, it is becoming an increasingly warmer climate in the summer after all. But that’s a different story.

Read more


The page was updated 11/9/2022