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Open Access Publications from the University of California

A possible connection between thermal comfort and health


It is a well-established fact that cardiovascular health requires periodic exercise during which the human body often experiences significant physical discomfort. It is not obvious to the exerciser that the short-term pain and discomfort has a long-term positive health impact. Many cultures have well-established practices that involve exposing the body to periodic thermal discomfort. Scandinavian saunas and American Indian sweat lodges are two examples. Both are believed to promote health and well-being. Vacations often intentionally include significant thermal discomfort as part of the experience (e.g., sunbathing, and downhill skiing). So people often intentionally make themselves thermally uncomfortable yet the entire foundation of providing the thermal environment in our buildings is done to minimize the percentage of people thermally dissatisfied. We must provide an environment that does not negatively impact short-term health and we need to consider productivity but are our current thermal comfort standards too narrowly defined and do these standards actually contribute to longer-term negative health impacts? This paper examines the possibility that the human body thermoregulatory system has a corollary relationship to the cardiovascular system. It explores the possibility that we have an inherent need to exercise our thermoregulatory system. Potential, physiological, sociological and energy ramifications of these possibilities are discussed.

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