Professor Glen Kenny from the School of Human Kinetics utilizes research knowledge to spread awareness on heat-related illnesses and deaths 

Faculty of Health Sciences
Human Kinetics

By the School of Human Kinetics

Communication, Faculty of Health Sciences

Glen Kenny with image of sun over a city
Western Europe is facing record-breaking July temperatures that are consequently affecting the lives and health of many individuals, especially the elderly. These catastrophic temperatures, along with limited access to air conditioning, are leading to more heat-related deaths and illnesses each day. 

Professor Glen P. Kenny, from Human and Environmental Physiology Research Unit of the School of Human Kinetics, has conducted and dedicated many years of research on the effects of heat stress on population health. According to Kenny, heat stress can affect an individual without them being aware. It is something that builds gradually and then hits you when you are most vulnerable. Professor Kenny states “It’s like a light switch. Suddenly, now their world collapses, their world has changed.” (McKenzie, 2022). His research demonstrates that when your body produces sweat, it is also taking away from blood volume at the same time, causing significant stress on the heart. He elaborates on how the heart acts like a pump that sustains blood flow towards your skin, which is how you remove heat from your core and push it towards the surface of the skin. Sadly, the heart is not good at doing so, especially for the elderly. “For every 10 years, an adult human loses about four percent of his or her capacity to dissipate heat”, which is alarmingly harmful for the elderly (McKenzie, 2022). Moreover, other medical or health conditions can exacerbate the situation even more.    

So, how should we stay cool in our homes in times like these? Here are a few tips from Professor Kenny:  

  • “To make sure that the home is not overheated, indoor temperatures should be 26 oC and below.  

  • If individual cooling systems (e.g., air conditioning) aren’t available at places such as long-term care and retirement facilities, creating a common cooling area could help residents avoid overheating and acquiring heat-related illnesses.  

  • Despite being widely advocated, fans should be avoided when air temperature exceeds 35°C. Fans do not lower core temperature when air temperatures exceed this limit.  

  • The best approach is to get out of the heat and find a cool place to stay.”

 Furthermore, for those who have older relatives, Kenny suggests doing wellness checks with simple questions (ex: When is your birthday?), checking the indoor temperature, turning on the AC and avoiding any activity that would produce heat (e.g. cooking).  

 At the end of the day, knowing the signs early on can help reduce these heat-related deaths. With the assistance of Professor Kenny, an informational guide for pointing out signs of heat illness was created by the National Collaboration Centre for Environmental Health. Noticing signs like fatigue, dizziness, headache, irritability, etc., could easily help identify a heat-stressed individual before it’s too late.