How climate fit am I?

The heat is still, the sun is beating down: the climate crisis is also having an impact on us.  But how well does my body handle the heat?

The heat is still, the sun is beating down: the climate crisis is also having an impact on us. But how well does my body handle the heat? Image: Getty Images

Close

The climate crisis not only has serious consequences for the environment, but also for us – and our health. Can our author defy the consequences of the climate crisis? She had her climate resilience examined by the environmental doctor Claudia Traidl-Hoffmann.

Josephine Andreoli

Almost everyone is now aware that the earth is heating up. That the heat and the many other consequences of the climate crisis also mean health risks for us in Germany, rather less. It should be – because high temperatures are terrible for our body: How do we cool down when it’s hotter than 40 degrees even in the shade? Where do we go when our sweat production as the body’s own air conditioning system reaches its limits?

Because if our body temperature rises to 42 degrees, we die.

That worries me a little.

Yes, I am young and fit. Actually. But how is my health really? How does my body cope with the heat, the pollen, the air pollution? And above all: What will I face in 50 years?

“We have to keep ourselves healthy. At the same time, we have to realize that our bodies have limits and that we cannot adapt to all the consequences of global warming.”

Claudia Traidl-Hoffmann, director of the university outpatient clinic for environmental medicine at the University Hospital Augsburg

To find out, I make my way to Professor Claudia Traidl-Hoffmann. She is director of the university outpatient clinic for environmental medicine at the University Hospital Augsburg and researches the risks of the climate crisis on our health. She says: “We have to keep ourselves healthy. At the same time, we have to be aware that our bodies have limits and that we cannot adapt to all the consequences of global warming. Even fit people have their limits.”

Health risks are increasing due to climate change

When I arrive at the university hospital, it is hot. The air is still, the sun is beating down. It somehow fits the appointment – after all, environmental medicine specialist Traidl-Hoffmann wants to find out how well my body can cope with heat.

But already during the anamnesis I notice: It’s about much more than just the health risks of rising temperatures. As always with the climate crisis, it is more complicated. Everything is related to everything.

“So if you have a child now, it has a much higher chance of developing allergies.”

Claudia Traidl-Hoffmann, director of the university outpatient clinic for environmental medicine at the University Hospital Augsburg

An example: If you have an underactive thyroid gland, you tend to have high blood pressure when the temperature is high. Means: You have to be careful here and make sure that the hormone is set correctly. In general, the effectiveness of medication can fluctuate in the heat, i.e. it can be too weak or too strong. This is an additional risk, especially for the elderly and the seriously ill.

In this way you reduce health risks for your children

When babies come into contact with pollen in their first year of life, it increases the likelihood that they will develop a pollen allergy or asthma. According to the environmental doctor Claudia Traidl-Hoffmann, a diverse diet helps here, i.e. a wide-ranging menu.
And she has another tip ready: “If you want children, it’s best to get two dogs. That protects us from allergies. The dogs bring microbial diversity to us, i.e. a variety of species, which really leads to that People who have dogs are less likely to develop allergies.” Cats don’t have this effect.

Or, second example: The skin, as the largest organ, protects our body from invaders of all kinds – germs, foreign bodies, UV radiation. At the same time, it also regulates the loss of liquid, i.e. perspiration. But this protective shield, called the skin barrier, can also become thinner. As a result, we are more susceptible to pollen, for example – and so are allergies. And that’s not all. Because it is getting warmer, the pollen flight lasts for a longer period of time, the pollen becomes more and more aggressive. “So if you have a child now, it has a much higher chance of developing allergies,” explains Traidl-Hoffmann.

The increased pollen flight ensures that more and more people develop allergies.

The increased pollen flight ensures that more and more people develop allergies.picture: picture alliance / PantherMedia

Heat Stress Test: Can I Defy the Climate Crisis?

Today, however, the environmental doctor wants to take a close look at me. Will I be able to defy the climate crisis?

I’m starting to get a little nervous.

This is also immediately noticeable in my blood pressure, because it is a bit too high. Traidl-Hoffmann, however, declines. We’ll measure it again later. Then she takes my temperature: 37.1 degrees. Everything OK.

First of all, it means for me now: heat stress test. It’s 35.1 degrees outside – and we’re doing exactly what you shouldn’t do at these temperatures: go out in the blazing sun and get your pulse racing.

I get a pulse oximeter on my finger for when I’m out and about – to measure my oxygen saturation in the blood the entire time. Anything over 90 percent is good. I breathe out relieved, my value fluctuates between 93 and 97 percent. That’s good. I do three quick laps around the hospital grounds, then quickly back inside: measure blood pressure, pulse, temperature and oxygen saturation.

High temperatures mean stress for our body.

High temperatures mean stress for our body.picture: picture alliance / dpa-tmn / Christin Klose

The environmental medicine specialist is enthusiastic: My pulse drops from 110 to 63 in a very short time. That’s really good. You can tell I do a lot of sport. A little stone falls from my heart. Maybe that’s why my blood pressure has now returned to normal.

Next up is the temperature reading: 37.3 degrees. Now this surprises me: I’m in the sun for less than five minutes – and my temperature has already risen by 0.2 degrees.

“Someone who lives in Spain, for example, can deal with the heat in a completely different way and has completely adjusted their everyday life to it than someone who comes from Hamburg.”

Claudia Traidl-Hoffmann, director of the university outpatient clinic for environmental medicine at the University Hospital Augsburg

How are roofers supposed to do it? Or postman? After all, they are exposed to the sun and heat all day long.

I have to swallow The measurement shows how much the rising temperatures are affecting us and our health. Although I’m someone who loves summer and sun, I also notice how my concentration falters in the heat. How my body has to fight it.

Claudia Traidl-Hoffmann confirms my concern. She says:

“Of course you can adapt to the heat to some extent. But as fast and severe as climate change is progressing, our bodies don’t have enough time to adapt.”

To a certain extent, however, it is also a matter of getting used to it: “Someone who lives in Spain, for example, can deal with the heat very differently and has completely geared their everyday life to it than someone who comes from Hamburg,” she adds. Like me. The temperature record was also broken in Hamburg this July with 40.1 degrees. And yet – in the far north it is still comparatively cool.

Sweat cools the body down – this is essential for life

For me it is now the second round of the heat stress test. Again, I do three brisk laps around the hospital grounds. Same game as before.

Heart rate, blood pressure and oxygen saturation are the same as for the first lap. Something interesting can only be observed with my body temperature: It does not rise, as it did on the first lap, but drops to 36.9 degrees. Despite the heat, despite the sun. My body’s air conditioning works – I sweat.

In the sun and heat, the following applies: drink a lot – preferably one glass per hour.

In the sun and heat, the following applies: drink a lot – preferably one glass per hour.picture: picture alliance / dpa | Karl Josef Hildenbrand

Conclusion of the environmental doctor: I am climate resilient

After the tests I can take a deep breath, the verdict of the environmental doctor is good: If I continue to exercise like this, continue to eat healthily and stay slim, I can at least look forward to the summers that are even hotter ahead of us without any health concerns.

“Climate protection is health protection.”

Claudia Traidl-Hoffmann, director of the university outpatient clinic for environmental medicine at the University Hospital Augsburg

I am climate resilient.

However, that is not a guarantee. “Living in Germany, in Europe, is a privilege,” says Traidl-Hoffmann. “Nevertheless, we are feeling climate change today and we will feel it even more massively. At the same time, we can talk openly about climate change and don’t have to fight over water distribution, not yet. And that is exactly what we have to convey to our patients: Climate protection is health protection.”

She emphasizes:

“It’s important to realize that climate change isn’t just a problem for polar bears, but also and especially for us here in Europe. And not just in ten years, but here and now. And I think that’s exactly what it is Awareness gets people to act, because that only works when it gets to our own throats, and that requires three things: first, recognizing that we are the cause of climate change, second, that we are the goal – and not protecting the earth, but protecting ourselves. And third, that we can actually do something through our actions.”

If that’s not motivation enough for climate protection: If not for the polar bears, then at least for ourselves.

Leave a Comment