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Whole-Body Heat Stress Lowers Exercise Capacity, Blood Flow in Men

Bethesda, Md. (February 1, 2017)—Researchers have found that prolonged exposure to high temperatures can raise both the skin and core temperature, reducing blood flow to the brain and limbs during exercise and limiting the ability to exercise for long periods. The study, the first of its kind to separate the effects of skin- versus internal-raised temperature (hyperthermia), is published in Physiological Reports.

Nine male volunteers (average age 26) exercised on a stationary bicycle after spending time in a hot environment created by wearing a suit that circulated 122-degree Fahrenheit water. Before one exercise test, the volunteers were exposed to heat for 13 minutes, enough time to raise their skin temperature (“mild hyperthermia”). Another exercise test took place after 52 minutes of heat exposure, during which the temperature of the participants’ core body temperature increased (“moderate hyperthermia”).

Researchers took blood samples in the last minute of each exercise test. Skin and core body temperature was measured throughout each exercise test. The research team also measured blood flow to the brain and legs during each test.

The findings showed that moderate, but not mild, hyperthermia led to a lower threshold for exercise capacity and decreased blood flow. The researchers found that the body is able to compensate when heat stress is restricted to only the skin, but “the combination of multiple stressors triggered by whole body hyperthermia, however, resulted in a compromised aerobic capacity.” Blood flow to the legs and brain was also lower with moderate hyperthermia.

Read the full study, “Whole body hyperthermia, but not skin hyperthermia, accelerates brain and locomotor limb circulatory strain and impairs exercise capacity in humans,” in Physiological Reports. 

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: To schedule an interview with a member of the research team, please contact the APS Communications Office or 301-634-7209. Find more research highlights in the APS Press Room.

Physiology is the study of how molecules, cells, tissues and organs function in health and disease. Established in 1887, the American Physiological Society (APS) was the first U.S. society in the biomedical sciences field. The Society represents more than 10,500 members and publishes 15 peer-reviewed journals with a worldwide readership.

 


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