The induction and decay of heat acclimatisation in trained athletes

Sports Med. 1991 Nov;12(5):302-12. doi: 10.2165/00007256-199112050-00003.


Heat acclimatisation/acclimation involves a complex of adaptations which includes decreased heart rate, rectal temperature, perceived exertion as well as increased plasma volume and sweat rate. These adaptations serve to reduce physiological strain, improve an athlete's ability to exercise in a hot environment, and reduce the incidence of some forms of heat illness. Few differences exist in the ability of men and women to acclimatise to heat. Typically, older runners do not perform in the heat as well as younger runners, but physical training can negate differences between these groups. Hormonal adaptations (e.g. aldosterone, vasopressin) during heat acclimatisation encourage fluid-electrolyte retention and cardiovascular stability. Athletes with high maximal aerobic power (VO2max) acclimatise to heat faster (and lose adaptations slower when they are inactive in a cool environment) than athletes with low VO2max values. Physical training in a cool environment improves physiological responses to exercise at high ambient temperatures. In attempting to optimise heat acclimatisation, athletes should maintain fluid-electrolyte balance, exercise at intensities greater than 50% VO2max for 10 to 14 days, and avoid factors (e.g. sleep loss, infectious disease) which are known to reduce heat tolerance. Once acclimatisation has been achieved, inactivity results in a decay of favourable adaptations, after only a few days or weeks.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology*
  • Exercise
  • Female
  • Heat Exhaustion / etiology
  • Heat Exhaustion / physiopathology
  • Heat Exhaustion / prevention & control
  • Hot Temperature* / adverse effects
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Oxygen Consumption / physiology
  • Physical Fitness / physiology*
  • Risk Factors
  • Sports*
  • Time Factors