Home Health & Wellness Cold Houses Kill – Why 16C Homes Increase the Risk of Strokes, Heart Attacks and Infections

Cold Houses Kill – Why 16C Homes Increase the Risk of Strokes, Heart Attacks and Infections

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As the UKHSA’s cold weather alert continues, a leading testing expert says it’s important we heat our homes to 18C, to avoid the risk of heart attacks, strokes and chest infections.

This week’s freezing weather forced the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) to issue a cold weather alert. We shouldn’t ignore this warning, says a leading health testing expert. Older people and those with pre-existing health conditions need to keep warm and heat their homes to 18C, where possible.

Quinton Fivelman, PhD, chief scientific officer at London Medical Laboratory, said: “Soaring energy bills have left many of us struggling to find the money to heat our homes this winter. However, it’s vital that we keep them warm to around 18C (degrees centigrade), if possible. If our homes drop to 16C or lower we are putting ourselves at risk of major health problems, particularly for those people with pre-existing health conditions or over the age of 65.”

Research published by Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute has found that 18-21C is the ideal temperature for a living room and, when temperatures start to vary from this level, health risks begin to increase:

  • 24C+ – Cardiovascular risk of strokes and heart attacks
  • 21-24C – Increasing discomfort
  • 18-21C – Comfortable temperatures
  • 16-18C – Discomfort, small health risks
  • 12-16C – Risk of respiratory diseases
  • 9-12C – Risk of strokes, heart attacks
  • <9°C – Risk of hypothermia

However, many UK homes fall below the optimum temperature. The English House Condition Survey, conducted by housing expert Richard Moore, found 28% of UK homes had cold living rooms (16C or below) and 44% of homes had cold hallways. These are temperatures associated with danger to health and physiological discomfort.

In 2008, researchers from Sheffield Hallam University found 10,000 deaths in the UK might be prevented if indoor temperatures were raised to 21C during the winter months. They found that for each one-degree increase in indoor temperature between 14.8C and 19C the ratio of deaths fell by 2.9%.

These figures are particularly concerning this winter because of the impact of high energy costs. A YouGov survey from 2-5 December 2022 found 15% of households had not turned their heating on at all, and six in ten (61%) said that while their heating was on, it was not on for as long as they would like, not as hot as they would like, or both. Remember, the first two weeks of December were the coldest since 2010, with a prolonged spell of low temperatures and snowy, icy conditions.  

What can we do to minimise the impact of cold weather? The UKHSA is urging that, during this current cold snap, it is important to check in on family, friends and relatives who may be more vulnerable to the cold weather. 

It is also sensible to establish how healthy we are to endure colder spells, particularly this winter when some nursing and ambulance staff will be taking industrial action and help may not be instantly available.

A general health test might be a useful course of action for anyone concerned, to ensure they are in good health to fight infections and reduce the likelihood of needing access to health services this winter. London Medical Laboratory’s General Health Profile Test provides people with a comprehensive check-up of their general health, including diabetes (HbA1c), gout, liver & kidney function, bone health, iron levels and a full cholesterol profile. Other more comprehensive tests check your vitamin D levels and any potential thyroid or hormonal imbalances.

They can be taken at home through the post or at one of the many drop-in clinics that offer these tests across London and nationwide in over 90 selected pharmacies and health stores. If done in-store, a full blood test can be added that can indicate a wide range of issues such as infection, anaemia and leukaemia.

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