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Avoid both extreme heat and extreme cold: here is why

Harold Mandel's picture
Elderly women relaxing in the shade

There are many people who express an extreme like for mild tropical climates such as seen in Hawaii where it's usually not too hot or too cold. Aside from feeling good from the added advantages of a healthier lifestyle which is possible and desirable for a lot of people in such an environment there may also be the possibility of living longer due to the mild temperatures. Recent research has shown extremely low temperatures and extremely high temperatures increase mortality.

German researchers studied the association between daily air temperature and cause-specific cardiovascular mortality in Bavaria, Southern Germany reported the journal Heart. The researchers obtained data from the cities Munich, Nuremberg and Augsburg and the two adjacent administrative districts of Augsburg and Aichach-Friedberg from 1990–2006. Their data consisted of daily cause-specific cardiovascular death counts along with mean daily meteorological variables and air pollution concentrations.

Low temperatures and high temperatures increase cause-specific cardiovascular mortality

It was observed that an increase in the 2-day average temperature from the 90th (20.0°C) to the 99th centiles (24.8°C) was associated with an increase of cardiovascular mortality by 10 percent. It was also observed for a decrease from the 10th (-1.0°C) to the 1st centiles (-7.5°C) in the 15-day average temperature cardiovascular mortality increased by 8 percent.

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The most powerful consistent risk estimates were observed for high 2-day average temperatures and mortality due to other heart diseases which included arrhythmias and heart failure and cerebrovascular diseases, particularly in the elderly. The German researchers concluded that in addition to low temperatures, high temperatures increase cause-specific cardiovascular mortality.

The elderly and people with pre-existing medical conditions have an extreme sensitivity to heat and cold

The bottom line appears to be when temperatures are extremely high or low there is a significant increase in the number of deaths which are caused by heart failure or stroke reports the German Research Centre for Environmental Health in a discussion of this research.

Dr. Alexandra Schneider, the lead researcher, says these findings have confirmed the results of previous studies which have indicated that in the elderly and people with pre-existing medical conditions there is an extreme sensitivity to heat and cold. It is the position of Dr. Schneider that an awareness of the effects of air temperature on health can help identify population subgroups who are particularly at risk and where preventive action should be taken.

In this study the effects of the heat lasted for one or two days while the effects of cold weather lasted for up to two weeks. The elderly were most affected. The impact of extreme temperatures on death rates which were due to heart failure, arrhythmia and stroke was found to be particularly striking.

The findings from this research offer good reasons to respect the feelings of people when they complain about not feeling well due to extreme temperatures. An understanding that the phenomenon of increased mortality due to extreme temperatures should lead to efforts to prevent too much exposure to extreme temperatures, particularly in the elderly and in people with pre-existing medical conditions who are extremely sensitive to extreme temperatures.