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The total rate of body metabolism, or the metabolic rate, can be measured by either the amount of heat generated by the body or by the amount of oxygen consumed by the body per minute. This rate is influenced by a variety of factors. For example, the metabolic rate is increased by physical activity and by eating. The increased rate of metabolism that accompanies the assimilation of food can last more than 6 hours after a meal.

Body temperature is also an important factor in determining metabolic rate. The reasons for this are twofold: (1) temperature itself influences the rate of chemical reactions and (2) the hypothalamus contains temperature control centers, as well as temperature-sensitive cells that act as sensors for changes in body temperature. In response to deviations from a "set point" for body temperature (chapter 1), the control areas of the hypothalamus can direct physiological responses that help to correct the deviations and maintain a constant body temperature. Changes in body temperature are thus accompanied by physiological responses that influence the total metabolic rate.

Hypothermia (low body temperature)—where the core body temperature is lowered to between 26° and 32.5° C (78° and 90° F)—is often induced during open heart or brain surgery. Compensatory responses to the lowered temperature are dampened by the general anesthetic, and the lower body temperature drastically reduces the needs of the tissues for oxygen. Under these conditions, the heart can be stopped and bleeding is significantly reduced.

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