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Summer Temperature Swings May Harm Elderly

Bigger Day-to-Day Temperature Variations May Contribute to Premature Death

Temperature Check continued...

For each 1 degree Celsius change in the average temperature, death risk rose 4.0% for those with diabetes; 3.8% for those who'd had a previous heart attack; 3.7% for those with chronic lung disease; and 2.8% for those with heart failure.

Those are not huge increases. But spreading the risk over a large population of people, researchers say temperature swings could be responsible for as many as 14,000 premature deaths in heart attack survivors each year, for example.

Climate Change to Blame?

The researchers also found that big temperature swings are becoming more common, possibly because of climate change.

"It means we probably should be more concerned about climate change because there may be some significant health effects directly associated with the increasing variability of weather," Schwartz says.

The findings are "cause for concern," says Kim Knowlton, DrPH, a senior scientist in the Natural Resources Defense Council's health and environment program in New York. Knowlton, who was not involved in the research, says the study "points to a really important effect that hasn't been so much captured before."

Big temperature changes appeared to be most stressful for people who live in Southern as opposed to Northern states.

"Living in a warmer climate is not worse for you. But if it's a warmer climate and it has big temperature swings, then those people seem to be more susceptible than people in a climate where the summer isn't as hot and had similar-sized temperature swings," says Schwartz.

One silver lining of the study was that green space in a city seemed to reduce the risks of changing temperatures.

For every 15% increase in green surfaces within a city, researchers found that the risk of premature death for heart attack patients dropped about 2%.

"We really need to think about green space in a serious way, and planting trees on streets in urban areas, because that seems to damp down this effect," Schwartz says.

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