When the body heats up during exercise, it comes in several ways. There are involuntary systems, such as sweating that help it cool off, and voluntary measures, such as dousing with cold water or wearing (and switching) hats filled with ice, as American Galen Rupp did every five kilometers during the Rio 2016 Olympic marathon. (He won a bronze medal.) Voluntary actions are known as “thermal behavior.”
When it comes to men and women, it appears that not all thermal behavior is the same, during exercise or after, in cooling down. Women seem to need more cooling than men, according to a study, which is “the first to highlight sex differences in thermal behavior,” said author Nicole Vargas, a postdoctoral fellow in exercise and nutrition sciences at the University at Buffalo’s school of public health.
The study was small, but its findings could have an impact on ways to prevent heat injuries, inspire improved designs in sports clothing and commercial cooling products, and in other areas. Information about thermal behavior also could help athletes deal with heat waves, common due to climate change.
In the study, the scientists had 10 men and 10 women in their early 20s exercise at low intensity — about 65 revolutions per minute — on a stationary bicycle for one hour while watching a nature documentary. Each subject had access to a custom-made dual tubing system that was in direct contact with the back of their neck.
One set of tubing contained water at 93.2 degrees that flowed constantly across their necks. The other set had liquid at minus-4, but also a valve that could control the flow. Researchers told participants to open the valve, thereby releasing the flow of extremely cold liquid, whenever they felt their neck had become uncomfortably warm during exercise. They could turn the valve off and on as needed. Researchers monitored them through the exercise and for one hour after exercising, telling them to keep their neck temperature comfortable during recovery.
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