Human beings love to be comfortable. Most people avoid discomfort at all costs. North Americans in particular like their houses to be at a constant temperature all year round. They don't want to be too cold, or too hot. One of the first things I noticed on moving to Canada was that houses are heated all winter to a level where the inhabitants can walk around in a T-shirt and shorts. We can even heat up our cars and trucks before we even get into them, so we do not have to suffer discomfort for longer than it takes to get from the house to the vehicle. This is so bad for the environment but also bad for the inhabitants which will be discussed in more detail in the next few weeks.
Why don’t people here keep their houses a little cooler in winter and put on a sweater and thick socks and warm sweatpants? Why do people often, without any break, go from having the central heating cranked up one day to using the air-conditioning the next?
In my own home, I had one of those domestic battles with my husband - you know the kind, when you are both convinced you are right… I suggested that we have at least one month in the spring and another in the fall when we have no heating and no air-conditioning on. Shock/horror! He sort-of agreed to my crazy request, shaking his head at my quaint African customs. (But I know he regularly sneaks to the thermostat…) Later, on visiting South Africa for the first time with me, he was dismayed that South African houses are so cold in winter… In Cape Town, we rug up, put on multiple layers and have a blanket over our legs when we are watching TV in the winter months. Often it is 10 degrees outside and feels like 9 degrees inside!
So why am I going on about this? Believe it or not, removing all or any physical discomfort is not really a good goal for humans. Given a choice, many people would quite happily watch Netflix for 12 hours a day and never do any physical exertion that might make them feel sweaty or slightly out of breath, but our bodies actually do need some physical stress, preferably daily.
Most people are aware that chronic, ongoing psychological stress is not good for us. Being in a bad relationship at home, or being trapped in a difficult work environment for example are bad stressors. They often result in anxiety, poor sleep, depression and general dysphoria. It can also lead to increased blood pressure, weight gain or loss and many other problems.
Similarly, prolonged exposure to physical stressors such as excessive cold or heat can also damage the body. Extreme cold can result in dangerous hypothermia (low body temperature) and excessive heat exposure can lead to dehydration and heat stroke. Both these conditions, as we know, can lead to death. These are examples of bad physical stressors for the body.