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On a mini-expedition to South Siberia

On a mini-expedition to South Siberia

Photographer:Fotograaf: Joey Roberts

Wishful thinking

When he is at a birthday party and he tells people that he carries out research into thermoregulation - or to be more precise, the regulation of the body's temperature - he is told story after story. About how women always feel colder than men, about older people who constantly have the heating on 25 degrees, in short, about the indoor climate. “That makes up our daily surroundings today,” says Van Marken Lichtenbelt, professor of Ecological Energetics and Health. “We spend most of our lives in buildings, so the question is: How do we do this as healthily as possible?”

Previous Maastricht research in offices showed that a stable temperature of 21 degrees is not ideal. “It is healthier to turn down the thermostat and in particular to vary the temperature: in shifts, for example by making it cooler in the mornings than in the afternoons, but also in different rooms. Metabolism increases, sugar levels improve, and you burn more calories.”

Another proven fact is that people can get used to 18 degrees, but what is the minimum? Van Marken Lichtenbelt would like to do a study in Tuva, a republic in South Siberia, which has been a part of Russia since the Second World War. “The inhabitants are cattle breeders so they spend a large part of the day outdoors. It is freezing cold there in the winter, on average -32 degrees. At what temperature do they start to shiver? How high is their energy consumption? At the same time, they live in yurts where it is warm, comparable to igloos. How do they deal with those extreme fluctuations? When does it still feel comfortable?”

The latter is not unimportant, although Van Marken Lichtenbelt prefers the term ‘pleasure’ over ‘comfort’. He wants to set up the indoor climate in such a way that it is healthy but that it is still pleasurable. Differences in temperature can play a role here. “Just think: if you are feeling cold, and you walk into a room with a fireplace, it feels great. This difference is pleasant, we also refer to this as alliesthesia. Anyway, There are of course limits to how pleasant or unpleasant you can make the indoor climate of your home.”

Something else to think about, is how to measure pleasure. “For that you need the help of psychologists. You can ask test subjects to fill out questionnaires. What is your experience? Another relevant aspect, certainly if you are carrying out research in offices, is what are the productivity effects. I think that a healthy and pleasant indoor temperature results in higher production and less absence through illness. Moreover, if you vary the temperature, you will save energy, which creates a sustainable environment for both people and the building."

The Tuva research is not as imaginary as you might think. Van Marken Lichtenbelt knows a colleague whose parents live in South Siberia. He already has a mini-expedition in mind, in which he would spend some time in the area. It isn't marked in his diary yet, but January 2020 would be a possibility.

In this series scientists talk about the research they would really like to carry out

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