Human Limits – What Can Your Body Take?

That was the title of a September 2009 article in National Geographic.  The most remarkable thing I found in this article was that they considered a 150 pound man to be the average.  That’s probably the average 5th grader.

Here are limits of the human body according to National Geographic. Warning don’t try these at home:

107.6 degrees F – Die from Heatstroke

Once your core body temp reaches 107.6 degrees, heatstroke becomes irreversible and fatal.

40 degrees F – Die of Hypothermia
After 30 minutes in 40 degree water, you will perish of hypothermia. Since water can pull heat from your body more effectively than air, the higher you can float or the more of your body you are able to get out of the water, the longer you will last.

300 degrees F – Die from Overheating
Heat from an enclosed fire or deep mine can begin to bake your body. In only 10 minutes, you will be meat loaf. Kids succumb much faster and in lower heat, just a few minutes inside a 120 degree car will prove fatal.

15,000 feet – Die from Altitude
Fading consciousness will occur at elevations higher than 15,000 feet unless acclimated. Raised red blood cell counts and enlarged lungs common to highland dwellers ensure their survival in these harsh altitudes.

282 feet – Die by Drowning
The record for the deepest freedive is 282 feet. Without special equipment, most people will black out at depths deeper than 60 feet, however with training it may be possible to go deeper.

11 minutes – Die from Lack of Oxygen
Without oxygen, you will loose consciousness after about 2 minutes. With training, some individuals have reached 11 minutes.

45 days or 30% – Die of Starvation
Without food, you can last about 45 days before you will loose approximately 30% of your body weight and die. With this rapid weight loss, you are more likely to succumb to disease before starvation.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s books on the Soviet Gulag system document some real life limits as he tells the story of unimaginable brutality towards prisoners particularly those imprisoned for political reasons.  While he speaks rather stoically or laconically of the horrible physical tortures the prisoners endured, you can feel his agony when he talks about the mental, emotional, or spiritual torture they endured.

Solzhenitsyn relates how prisoners would sleep outdoors on top of the snow or go barefoot in it.  He tells how they were made to work at least down to 50 below and sometimes down to 60 degrees below zero (The Gulag Archipelago, 127).  But what demoralized prisoners was the fact that their captors brought in common thieves and treated them as morally superior to them (Ibid. 93).

He relates how prisoners were regularly taken out and shot, and that seems somehow bearable.  But then he tells the story of a man named Karpunich.  He had his release papers in his hand after 5 long, terrible years.  On his way out the gate, they tricked him into giving them his papers.  They gave him in return another five years (Ibid. 132).  Stories such as these are beyond human limits, and Solzhenitsyn has many to tell.

One of the worst things to happen for him was when WW II “did away the protest inside the [prisoner’s] soul” (Ibid. 133).  Prisoners were always forbidden to protest audibly, but they, of course, did so on the inside.  WW II, or more accurately how their captors used it, took away their inaudible protest.  They did this by guilt.  They daily accused the prisoners that the war was their fault.  They daily reminded them that men were dying on the front while they were safe in prison.

In reality, it was their captors who were hiding from the war.  It was their captors who cared nothing about those dying in defense of their country.  Yet they were able to make their captives feel guilty for not being at the front and therefore deserving of their imprisonment and the harsh conditions.

Luther said you could always tell when the Devil was around because you could smell him.  His stench was guilt.  The human body can endure more physically than it can spiritually.  Indeed, being relieved spiritually empowers it to endure much physically.  That’s why Luther could sing, “And take they our life, / Goods, fame, child and wife, / Let these all be gone, / They yet have nothing won; / The Kingdom ours remaineth.”


About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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