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What’s the hottest temperature the human body can cope with?

The body can handle a lot, but how hot is too hot?

A close-up of a sweaty woman outdoors with her headphones in
A close-up of a sweaty woman outdoors with her headphones in

Anyone who’s survived an Australian summer knows that stepping outside the comfort of the air-conditioned house can feel like stepping into a sauna, but have you ever wondered ‘how hot is too hot to survive?’

If you thought that Australia was one of the hottest countries, you wouldn’t be entirely wrong. In January 2018, the Western Sydney suburb of Penrith peaked at a steamy 47.3 degrees – making it the hottest place in the world at that time. However, Death Valley in California holds the record of the highest temperature ever measured on earth, hitting a top of 56.7 degrees in 1913.

So how hot is too hot?

A 1958 report by NASA explained that our bodies are made to live in environments that are between 4-35 degrees, however if humidity is lower than 50%, we can withstand slightly hotter temperatures. The higher the humidity, the hotter it feels because it makes it harder for us to sweat and keep ourselves cool.

Live Science used data from the NASA report to put together an infographic that shows just how long your body could survive in the heat and humidity.

An infographic displaying how long the human body can cope with temperatures between 30 and 60 degrees

Heat hyperthermia

Once your body is exposed to so much heat that it can’t regulate itself anymore, it’s called hyperthermia (this is different from hypothermia which happens when your body’s temperature drops to dangerously low levels).

One of the first stages of hyperthermia is heat exhaustion and stress, so you might feel weak, dizzy, nauseous and thirsty. If you start feeling these symptoms, it’s important to drink plenty of water or other electrolyte-filled fluids, as these electrolytes will help regulate your heart rate, nerve function and muscles. When looking for a healthy electrolyte drink, opt for formulas that include potassium, sodium, magnesium, zinc, chloride, calcium, lysine, lithium and boron. Try and steer clear of drinks that contain artificial colours and flavours and sweeteners like glucose and corn syrup. Your best bet? Visit your local chemist for recommendations.

If you are experiencing heat exhaustion and your symptoms are worsening, it’s time to see your local doctor, or visit the emergency room.

We partnered with the Mark Hughes Foundation for their trek of the Sandakan Death March to follow in the footsteps of Aussie WWII prisoners of war who faced debilitating heat, starvation and often fatal injuries. Of the 2,000+ Sandakan prisoners, only six Australians survived; so we released a series of articles on the incredible limits of the human body. Want more information on what the Mark Hughes Foundation are doing? Check out the video below.

Credit: Mark Hughes Foundation