Air Conditioning Bad

Ever since air conditioning was invented it has been the subject of a healthy debate. Some claim that having cool air in the hot months keeps you safe, but others argue that fresh air is needed to keep you healthy.

Which side is right? As it turns out, both sides have valid points. Research into the health effects of air conditioning can be a bit contradictory at times, suggesting that air conditioning is neither entirely bad nor good for you.

But spending all your time inside climate-controlled buildings during the summer months can indeed be dangerous to your health.

Respiratory health

Prolonged time in air conditioned buildings has been linked to higher instances of respiratory infections, including tonsillitis, sore throats, and the common cold.

However, in some instances, air conditioning can be beneficial to respiratory health. This is especially true in an area with high levels of pollution, where particles in the air can be dangerous to those with lung conditions like asthma or emphysema. In these cases, being inside a sealed, air-conditioned building prevents airborne pollution from getting into the lungs and impairing breathing.

Opening the windows every few days and running fans instead of air conditioning will help keep your respiratory system healthy. But if you live in a highly polluted city, be sure to check the pollution levels for the day before you open your windows.

Heart health

Like respiratory health, heart health can be affected in different ways by air conditioning. For those suffering from severe heart conditions like congestive heart failure or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, high ambient heat can be incredibly dangerous. Being inside an air conditioned building keeps those with heart conditions safe during the hottest months of the year, preventing heatstroke and heart attacks.

On the other hand, other research indicates that constant exposure to air conditioning can have a negative effect on blood pressure. A study of healthy volunteers in Nigeria found that being inside an air conditioned room caused blood pressure to rise significantly, which could prove incredibly dangerous for the elderly, those with health problems, or those with hypertension.

If you have chronic health conditions that can be affected by extreme heat, staying in an air conditioned building during heat waves can help keep you safe. However, constant exposure to climate control may prove damaging to your heart, no matter your overall state of health. If the heat outside is not dangerous, it’s probably a good idea to open your windows and spend some time letting your body adjust to the temperature outside.

Sick building syndrome

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, doctors began to notice a pattern of illness in the United States with symptoms like headaches, sore throats, and backaches with no discernible cause. The only commonality was that the sufferers spent long periods of time inside climate-controlled buildings, particularly those with air conditioning.

The disease was dubbed “sick building syndrome”, and several studies have found a link between working in air-conditioned buildings and illness. For example, one French study done in 2004 found that employees working in sealed, air-conditioned buildings were more likely to take sick days or visit their doctors than those working in non-air conditioned buildings.

There is continuing disagreement in the medical community over whether sick building syndrome really exists, but there is a body of evidence indicating that spending time inside air-conditioned spaces does cause illness—not because the air is cold, but because air conditioning systems are a breeding ground for allergens, mold, and bacteria. If you do spend large periods of time inside air-conditioned buildings, you could be at risk of exposure to high levels of these micro-organisms.

Air conditioning and weight

As scientists and doctors investigate the growing obesity trend across the developed world, they’ve noticed something surprising—access to air conditioning seems to correlate with increased weight gain.

One hypothesis is that air conditioning reverses our seasonal biorhythms. In warm weather, we are naturally predisposed to spend more time outside and moving. The more time you spend outside, the more your body adjusts to the heat, and the more you are able to stay active. And, like other animals, humans are likely to heat heavy, rich food when it is cold and lighter fare when it is warm.

However, when we’re accustomed to air conditioning, the outside feels even hotter by comparison. We begin to spend our summer months inside, getting less exercise. Because we are living in warmer temperatures, our diets remain as calorie-dense as they are in winter.

A bit of mindfulness about both diet and exercise can counter this effect. However, if you find yourself gaining weight in the summer, an easy way to shed the pounds might be to turn off the air conditioning and see how your body naturally adjusts.