Last edited 08 Jan 2021

Healthy excursions outside the thermal comfort zone

On 25 April 2017, Building Research & Information (BRI) published; Healthy excursions outside the thermal comfort zone, by Wouter van Marken Lichtenbelt, Mark Hanssen, Hannah Pallubinsky, Boris Kingma and Lisje Schellen.

The study found that exposure to environments outside of the 'normal' comfortable temperature range can help tackle major metabolic diseases, such as diabetes and obesity.

Exposure to mildly cold or warm environments, outside the standard comfort zone inside buildings (typically around 21 - 22°C) increases metabolism and energy expenditure which can help to tackle obesity. For those with type 2 diabetes, exposure to mild coldness influences glucose metabolism and after 10 days of intermittent cold, this increased insulin sensitivity (and so glucose handling) by more than 40%. This is comparable with the best pharmaceutical solutions available.

There are also indications that cardiovascular parameters may be positively affected by regular exposure to heat and cold.

The authors of the study have advocated therefore that buildings such as homes and offices should adopt drifting temperatures to create a a more healthy environment. A reduction in heating and cooling could also contribute to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

This does not mean we need to suffer from discomfort to become healthy. Prolonged excursions outside the thermal comfort zone result in acclimatisation, and low or high temperatures in dynamic thermal environments can be perceived as acceptable or even pleasant (described as 'thermal alliesthesia' – ie cold stimuli will be perceived as pleasant by someone who is warm, whilst warm stimuli will be experienced as pleasant by someone who is cold).

Lead author, Professor of Ecological Energetics and Health at Maastricht University Wouter van Marken Lichtenbelt said; “It has previously been assumed that stable fixed indoor temperatures would satisfy comfort and health in most people. However, this research indicates that mild cold and variable temperatures may have a positive effect on our health and at the same time are acceptable or even may create pleasure.”

Richard Lorch, BRI editor in chief, said; "This ground-breaking research provides a new approach to how we think about the heating and cooling our of buildings. The health benefits from a short exposure to a more varied temperature range will redefine our expectations on thermal comfort. In turn, this will change our practices for heating and cooling our buildings."

Healthy excursions outside the thermal comfort zone; van Marken Lichtenbelt, Wouter; Hanssen, Mark; Pallubinsky, Hannah; Kingma, Boris; Schellen, Lisje. Building Research & Information, 2017/04/25.

--Building Research & Information 10:34, 27 Apr 2017 (BST)

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