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The benefits of an optimal body temperature: The science

You may be well aware of the disadvantages to businesses that don’t develop and maintain the optimum working temperatures of 21-23 Celsius but are you aware of the advantages and disadvantage of the optimum body temperature?

It’s amazing what a difference a few degrees in temperature can make. We definitely notice the change from 5°C to 10°C as the weather improves from winter to spring – in fact, some actually consider such a change to be the beginning of t-shirt weather. However, an alteration like this within the human body could mean the difference between life and death.

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Our incredibly clever human bodies maintain a temperature of around 37°C – or, 36.8°C to be exact – pretty much constantly, and any change in this by even half a degree can mean that we feel dreadful. But why? What is it about this magical temperature that means that such a fluctuation can be a symptom of illness, and can even cause problems in itself?

Hot or not?

Before we start, we should really mention that it’s not quite ‘one temperature suits all’. Though we all maintain a constant temperature of around 36.8°C, this can differ very slightly from person to person for a variety of reasons, such as our age, what we’ve just been doing, the time of day, and the part of the body that we take the temperature from.

The armpit, for example, will give a reading that’s about 0.5°C lower than the core body temperature. Older people also tend to have lower temperatures than they might have had at a younger age. This NHS article explains how to take a temperature accurately.

What a fungi…

So what is it about 37°C that works so well for us humans? Well, it seems to be rather useful at keeping fungal infection at bay – for every degree celsius rise in temperature, the number of fungal species that can infect an animal is reduced by six per cent. Cold blooded animals like reptiles are at threat from tens of thousands of types of fungus, whereas we are only susceptible to a few hundred species.

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But why aren’t we hotter? That way, we’d be able to pretty much eliminate the fungus altogether, surely? Well, extremely high body temperatures come with their own problems too. The hotter our core body temperature, the faster our metabolism has to be in order to generate enough energy to maintain that temperature; which means we have to eat more often.

Of course, many of us may be more than happy to have an excuse to graze throughout the day; but evolutionarily speaking, it doesn’t make sense. We’d run out of resources quickly, and then as a species we’d be more likely to die out as a result.

A ripe old age

Our body temperature also allows us to enjoy a long life. According to this interesting article which also explains how meditation can extend your lifespan, species that have a high body temperature tend to live longer than other species that are colder; however, within each species, the members who live the longest tend to have lower body temperatures than their counterparts.

In plain English, the lower your average core body temperature, the longer you’re likely to live compared to other humans. However, it’s not simply a case of switching on a fan to cool your skin down; to bring your core temperature down, according to the research shown in the link above, you need to slow down your metabolic rate.

Stay cool to stay slim?

However, while a slower metabolism could mean that we can live longer, if you’re looking to shed a few pounds then a faster metabolism can help – and your core body temperature could be the key to speeding things up. Recent research suggests that turning down the thermostat a little would encourage the ‘thermostat’ within our bodies to work harder, and thereby kickstart our metabolism.

As this article on how colder temperatures can aid weight loss explains early research suggests that reducing the temperature of our environment could make our bodies burn more calories to maintain our body temperature. However, it’s not yet known how effective reducing temperature will be at speeding up weight loss.

Sweet dreams…

You’ll probably have already experienced at least one sleepless night due to the temperature; too hot or too cold and we feel uncomfortable and unable to relax enough to drift off. Unsurprisingly, our core body temperature has an effect on our sleeping patterns, too.

According to this article that offers tips on sleeping soundly, somewhere between 12°C and 24°C is optimal for slumber, but this can vary from person to person – which makes sense, as our core body temperature can be slightly different for each of us, too.

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Our body temperature lowers slightly during the time when we tend to be ready for bed, which could enable us to sleep better. As this article from the Huffington Post on the optimum body temperature for sleepexplains, a warmer core body temperature tends to lead to difficulty in getting to sleep in the first place; and cooler core body temperatures can enable us to enjoy a deep sleep.

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