Exercising in heat and humidity is a drag for most, and a downright repellent for some, but if you could adjust your body's internal temperature to bear the heat better and last longer, should you do it?
That's the question at the center of a study reported in the New York Times Well blog Tuesday. Researchers at Roehampton University in London had a group of healthy young male runners run in a humid, 87-degree lab. They ran much further when they wore ice-cold strap-on neck collars, researchers found, but when their legs finally gave out, their core temperatures were significantly higher.
Wearing the cold collars allowed the runners to keep exercising as their core temperatures rose, "improving their time to exhaustion 'by dampening the perceived levels of thermal strain.'" Scientists believed the collars helped to convince the brain the body was cooler that it really was.
But is it wise to fool your body into thinking it's cooler than it really is? After all, an elevated core body temperature is what signals the brain to "shut down the muscles before disaster occurs," says Well.
It depends on your exercise goals.
"I don't think everyday recreational athletes should be worrying too much about performance" in the heat, Douglas Casa, a professor at University of Connecticut and an expert on heat illness told Well. "We should instead 'concentreate on staying healthy,' he continued, beginning with acclimating slowly to soaring temperatures over the course of a week or so."
But competitive athletes could benefit from the use of a cooling collar if they're really intent on improving performance and capacity, though users need to be aware it could lead to overexertion if the brain "disastrously misreads your body." They should check their heart rates while exercising, and if "you're exercising at 15 beats per minutes more than normal, you might want to slow down."
Do you feel you exercise better when you're in a cool environment?