“The ideal temperature? 22 degrees.”

  • Belgium experienced its hottest day on Tuesday.
  • The human body suffers in hot weather, but it adapts.
  • According to Prof. Brimioulle (ULB), temperatures above 28 degrees take people out of their comfort zone.


The mercury rose to almost 35 degrees in Belgium on Tuesday. And although the human body is capable of adapting to conditions that are unusual for this part of the world, its comfort zone remains somewhat vague, according to Serge Brimioulle, professor of physiology at the Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB). As far as he is concerned, the “ideal” temperature is around 22 to 23 degrees.


Le Soir: Does an ideal outside temperature exist?

Professor Brimioulle: No. Aside from the fact that nobody likes it when it’s extremely hot or cold, we’re equipped to withstand a wide range of temperatures. Of course, there are certain boundaries we can set. If we’re naked and immobile, we’re in equilibrium with the outside at 28 degrees. What that means is that, above that temperature, any form of effort forces us to try to negate the effects of the heat, which is a burden for the organism. So when it’s hotter than 28 degrees, everyone is hot. In the opposite direction, there aren’t really any exact figures, because we put extra clothes on and we obviously adapt. We don’t tend to place naked human beings in very cold conditions just to see what might happen.


What is the ideal temperature, then?

It’s around about the temperature that hospitals try to maintain: 22 or 23 degrees.


And what is the physiological explanation for that?

It’s a temperature that the organism finds easy to regulate. We can function without putting too much effort into getting rid of or keeping in heat.


How do you explain that healthy individuals react differently to different temperatures?

One element that comes into play is the individual’s weight and fat layers, which serve as insulation. Heavy people are better at putting up with the cold, because they’re more “insulated” than thin people.


Does the body adapt?

No, the body’s temperature is more or less the same for everyone: 37 degrees. Africans have exactly the same body temperature as us or as Eskimos.


When people talk about putting on weight during the winter, is it less about adapting to the cold than it is about adapting to chocolate, then?

Adaptations to temperatures are possible, but they’ve not been proven.


Are the temperatures that we’re currently seeing in Belgium dangerous for our health?

No. But from 35 degrees upward, things get a bit difficult, due to the fact that we can no longer disperse heat as effectively. It’s important to note that I’m talking about the average man and woman in the street here. The elderly are less able to support high temperatures, because their regulating system doesn’t work as well. For them, difficulties can begin at under 30 degrees.


What about young children – are they more sensitive to heat?

Yes, for two reasons. First, they move around more than us, whether it’s hot or not. Second, they have an unfavorable weight-to-surface area ratio. Their surface area is proportionally greater than that of adults in comparison with their weight, so they are therefore more exposed to the heat.


Does humidity play a role in whether we feel comfortable or not?

Yes, sweat evaporates less easily and the sensation of heat is more pronounced, just like it feels colder when it’s windy.


Interview by FABRICE VOOGT

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