Know the limits of the human body because what you know can save you and what you don't, could kill you!
Must-Learn Facts About the Limits of the Human Body
How Far Can We Push the Limits of the Human Body?
Imagine this, if you will…
You go for a summer hike or a stroll in the woods in the dead of winter. You get turned around or lost, then panic sets in as you may not know what to do next.
It quickly becomes a survival situation.
Many of us may not know the physical limits of our bodies. And for those people these questions plague their thoughts immediately:
“How hot is too hot? Will I have a heat stroke out here? Will I even recognize the signs of a heat stroke?”
“How cold is too cold? What are the signs of hypothermia?”
“How long can I survive without food or water? Will I succumb to starvation and dehydration before help arrives?”
— Survival Life (@SurvivalLF) August 25, 2016
These are just some of the questions which quickly pop up as soon as a person realizes the winter afternoon stroll in the woods has become a night spent in the woods and it’s 15 degrees!
Or that summer hike didn’t go as planned…and the temperature is a whopping 102 degrees!
In this article, we’ll discuss the physical limits of the human body in certain survival situations, what symptoms to look for, and possibly first aid. Let’s take a sneak peek:
- Body heat
- Coldwater and hypothermia
- Lack of oxygen
- Blood loss
- High Altitude
Let’s get started!
1. Body Heat
When a person’s core body temperature reaches 107.6 degrees Fahrenheit, heatstroke cannot be reversed and will prove fatal.
The following steps can help prevent heat exhaustion and stroke from occurring:
- Wear loose-fitting, lightweight clothing.
- Protect against sunburn.
Sunburn affects your body's ability to cool itself, so protect yourself outdoors with a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses and use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15.
- Drink plenty of fluids.
Staying hydrated will help your body sweat and maintain a normal body temperature.
- Take extra precautions with certain medications.
Be on the lookout for heat-related problems if you take medications, which may affect your body's ability to stay hydrated and dissipate heat.
- Take it easy during the hottest parts of the day.
If you can't avoid strenuous activity in hot weather, drink fluids and rest frequently in a cool spot.
- Get acclimated.
Limit time spent working or exercising in heat until you're conditioned to it. People who are not used to hot weather are especially susceptible to heat-related illness. It can take several weeks for your body to adjust to hot weather.
- Be cautious if you're at increased risk.
If you take medications or have a condition which increases your risk of heat-related problems, avoid the heat and act quickly if you notice symptoms of overheating.
2. Cold Water and Hypothermia
Water saps body heat. A person would last barely 30 minutes in water which is just 35-40 degrees Fahrenheit, which will induce hypothermia. Here are the symptoms to watch for.
- Shivering, though this may stop as body temperature drops
- Slurred speech or mumbling
- Slow, shallow breathing
- Weak pulse
- Clumsiness or lack of coordination
- Drowsiness or very low energy
- Confusion or memory loss
- Loss of consciousness
- Bright red, cold skin (in infants)
- Gently move the person out of the cold. If going indoors isn't possible, protect the person from the wind, especially around the neck and head. Insulate the individual from the cold ground.
- Gently remove wet clothing. Replace wet things with warm, dry coats, or blankets.
- If further warming is needed, do so gradually. For example, apply warm, dry compresses to the center of the body — neck, chest, and groin.
- Offer the person warm, sweet, nonalcoholic drinks.
- Begin CPR if the person shows no signs of life, such as breathing, coughing or movement.
- Do not rewarm the person too quickly, such as with a heating lamp or hot bath.
- Don't attempt to warm the arms and legs. Heating or massaging the limbs of someone in this condition can stress the heart and lungs.
- Don't give the person alcohol or cigarettes. Alcohol hinders the rewarming process, and tobacco products interfere with the circulation needed for rewarming.
If a person loses 30% of their body weight, death is imminent. In certain cases, the disease has proven fatal before the severe effects of starvation set in.
What happens to the body after 3 days without food:
This stage is known as a state of autophagy. When fat splits up, your body turns to the protein in muscle, which means it starts spending your muscles.
At this point, your brain’s need for glucose decreases from 120 to 30 grams. Now the brain must get energy from the protein.
Although the brain can survive on protein, your muscles will slowly disappear. Metabolism slows down and your body starts using the least amount of energy.
At some point, your immune system will weaken due to the lack of vitamins and minerals. Usually, two types of diseases appear in the last stages of starvation: marasmus and kwashiorkor.
Marasmus is characterized by muscle loss and edema. Kwashiorkor is the most common form of malnutrition in developing countries, and it is characterized by fatigue, edema, and reduced muscular fat.
Every cell in a person’s body needs water. Without being able to replace the quart of water a person loses per day, a person will not last more than a week at most.
Mild dehydration symptoms can include:
- Dry, sticky mouth
- Sleepiness or tiredness — children are likely to be less active than usual
- Decreased urine output
- No wet diapers for three hours for infants
- Few or no tears when crying
- Dry skin
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
Severe dehydration symptoms will include:
- Extreme thirst
- Extreme fussiness or sleepiness in infants and children; irritability and confusion in adults
- Very dry mouth, skin, and mucous membranes
- Little or no urination — any urine produced will be darker than normal
- Sunken eyes
- Shriveled and dry skin which lacks elasticity and doesn't “bounce back” when pinched into a fold
- In infants, sunken fontanels — the soft spots on the top of a baby's head
- Low blood pressure
- Rapid heartbeat
- Rapid breathing
- No tears when crying
- In the most serious cases, delirium or unconsciousness
5. Other Limits of the Human Body
- Lack of Oxygen
Typically, a person would pass out after 2 minutes without oxygen. Certain individuals, with training, can hold their breath for nearly 11 minutes.
- Blood Loss
A person can survive after losing 30% of their blood. After losing 40% of your blood, a person would need an immediate blood transfusion.
- High Altitude
Consciousness fades for most people at 15,000 feet. However, highland dwellers that have adapted to high altitudes have larger lungs and more red blood cells which allows them to survive higher elevations.
Note to all survivalists: Bringing proper gear, food, water, and a basic amount of skill set with you into the wilderness is the key to survival.
Another thing to remember is to try your best to remain calm. Wilderness survival is 90% mental so it is crucial to remain calm and focused.
Watch this video from Bright Side about pushing the limits of the human body in this true plane crash survival story of Juliane Koepcke:
While humans have been able to do the unthinkable and survive despite the odds, don't intentionally put yourself in harm's way to know your human limitations. Or to find out the full potential of the human body.
I encourage each of you to check out our website for all your survival needs. We wish each of you a safe journey, wherever your next adventure takes you.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us or leave your thoughts about this blog in the comments section below.
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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on April 25, 2016, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.