Keep the heat on this winter

By HSC Staff Writers • Published: December 29th, 2008
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Turning down the heat may save money in the winter, but saving a few pennies may mean losing your health.

University of Michigan physicians say keeping the heater set at a lower temperature during the winter can pose serious health risks for seniors, babies and even adults with chronic ailments. And it doesn’t take below-freezing temperatures to cause problems.

An indoor temperature of sixty degrees is actually low enough to cause hypothermia in elderly adults, whose bodies no longer produce as much heat as they once did. Hypothermia occurs when body temperature drops by more than one degree.

This temperature change usually happens gradually, causing subtle symptoms at first like shivering and stumbling. Eventually, if body temperature continues to drop, hypothermia can cause dehydration, confusion, heart failure and perhaps even death.

Each year, about seven-hundred deaths in the United States are linked to hypothermia.

Using alternatives to the furnace, such as space heaters and fireplaces, to keep warm will stave off hypothermia, but can be just as dangerous. Electric space heaters, gas stoves and fireplaces cause thousands of fires each year. To avoid problems, experts say to keep your chimney clean and free of build-up and avoid placing space heaters too close to anything that can catch fire.

But doctors say the best prescription for a healthy winter is to stay bundled up and to keep the heater set at a comfortably warm temperature.

After all, that’s much better than paying the ultimate price.