Physiologic tolerance to uncompensable heat: intermittent exercise, field vs laboratory

Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2001 Mar;33(3):422-30. doi: 10.1097/00005768-200103000-00014.


Purpose: This study determined whether exercise (30 min)-rest (10 min) cycles alter physiologic tolerance to uncompensable heat stress (UCHS) when outdoors in the desert. In addition, the relationship between core temperature and exhaustion from heat strain previously established in laboratory studies was compared with field studies.

Methods: Twelve men completed four trials: moderate intensity continuous exercise (MC), moderate intensity exercise with intermittent rest (MI), hard intensity continuous exercise (HC), and hard intensity exercise with intermittent rest (HI). UCHS was achieved by wearing protective clothing and exercising (estimated at 420 W or 610 W) outdoors in desert heat.

Results: Heat Stress Index values were 200%, 181%, 417%, and 283% for MC, MI, HC, and HI, respectively. Exhaustion from heat strain occurred in 36 of 48 trials. Core temperatures at exhaustion averaged 38.6 +/- 0.5 degrees, 38.9 +/- 0.6 degrees, 38.9 +/- 0.7 degrees, and 39.0 +/- 0.7 degrees C for MC, MI, HC, and HI, respectively. Core temperature at exhaustion was not altered (P > 0.05) by exercise intensity or exercise-rest cycles and 50% of subjects incurred exhaustion at core temperature of 39.4 degrees C. These field data were compared with laboratory and field data collected over the past 35 years. Aggregate data for 747 laboratory and 131 field trials indicated that 50% of subjects incurred exhaustion at core temperatures of 38.6 degrees and 39.5 degrees C, respectively. When heat intolerant subjects (exhaustion < 38.3 degrees C core temperature) were removed from the analysis, subjects from laboratory studies (who underwent short-term acclimation) still demonstrated less (0.8 degrees C) physiological tolerance than those from field studies (who underwent long-term acclimatization).

Conclusion: Exercise-rest cycles did not alter physiologic tolerance to UCHS. In addition, subjects from field studies demonstrate greater physiologic tolerance than subjects from laboratory studies.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological*
  • Adult
  • Body Temperature
  • Body Temperature Regulation
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Heat Exhaustion / physiopathology*
  • Heat Stress Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Physical Fitness*