Our thermostats could be making us sicker

nest thermostat hand
CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Nest

The ability to heat and cool our homes has been one of the greatest technological advances in human comfort and productivity. It also protects us from extreme weather, adding to human longevity. Central heating and cooling and the thermostat, and in recent years, smart thermostats, have made keeping our homes and buildings at steady temperatures incredibly easy. They also help us to make more energy efficient decisions.

But now that so much of our lives are carried out indoors -- in our homes, offices and all other places we gather -- are we also starting to see some negative impacts of continual comfort?

A new study published in the UK journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B says that many of the body's evolved natural defenses that protect us in different seasons are being silenced by a year-round artificial summer. Scientists estimate that a quarter of our genes are sensitive to seasonal variations, but they're unsure exactly what impact the always-comfortable temperatures are having on those genes, though they suspect it's affecting our ability to ward off seasonal ailments.

For example, scientists know that our body has evolved to respond to cooler weather by altering the production of proteins that help us fend off things like the flu, but when we keep our thermostats fixed to warm temperatures, our bodies get fooled into thinking it's still summer, leaving our immune systems more vulnerable.

On the flip side of that, by keeping our homes and environments cooler during warmer months, we aren't realizing the affects of a warming world. If we stay comfortable all the time, we distance ourselves from the changes in the climate, which means we may feel less motivated to make necessary changes to protect the environment.

The scientists that conducted the study say that follow-up studies on how this disconnect from the world outside is affecting the planet in different ways, including agricultural, anthropological, veterinary and biomedical should be pursued.

For now, it might be a good idea to go outside more and experience all four seasons and adjust our thermostats less, letting ourselves get a little uncomfortable now and then. Who knows? It may just help ward off those winter colds.

Our thermostats could be making us sicker
Keeping our thermostats programmed at year-round comfortable temperatures could be affecting our health.

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