Sex differences in thermoeffector responses during exercise at fixed requirements for heat loss

J Appl Physiol (1985). 2012 Sep 1;113(5):746-57. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00637.2012. Epub 2012 Jul 12.


To assess potential mechanisms responsible for the lower sudomotor thermosensitivity in women during exercise, we examined sex differences in sudomotor function and skin blood flow (SkBF) during exercise performed at progressive increases in the requirement for heat loss. Eight men and eight women cycled at rates of metabolic heat production of 200, 250, and 300 W/m(2) of body surface area, with each rate being performed sequentially for 30 min. The protocol was performed in a direct calorimeter to measure evaporative heat loss (EHL) and in a thermal chamber to measure local sweat rate (LSR) (ventilated capsule), SkBF (laser-Doppler), sweat gland activation (modified iodine-paper technique), and sweat gland output (SGO) on the back, chest, and forearm. Despite a similar requirement for heat loss between the sexes, significantly lower increases in EHL and LSR were observed in women (P ≤ 0.001). Sex differences in EHL and LSR were not consistently observed during the first and second exercise periods, whereas EHL (348 ± 13 vs. 307 ± 9 W/m(2)) and LSR on the back (1.61 ± 0.07 vs. 1.20 ± 0.09 mg · min(-1) · cm(-2)), chest (1.33 ± 0.06 vs. 1.08 ± 0.09 mg · min(-1) · cm(-2)), and forearm (1.53 ± 0.07 vs. 1.20 ± 0.06 mg · min(-1) · cm(-2), men vs. women) became significantly greater in men during the last exercise period (P < 0.05). At each site, differences in LSR were solely due to a greater SGO in men, as opposed to differences in sweat gland activation. In contrast, no sex differences in SkBF were observed throughout the exercise period. The present study demonstrates that sex differences in sudomotor function are only evidenced beyond a certain requirement for heat loss, solely through differences in SGO. In contrast, the lower EHL and LSR in women are not paralleled by a lower SkBF response.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Blood Flow Velocity / physiology
  • Body Temperature / physiology*
  • Body Temperature Regulation / physiology*
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Regional Blood Flow / physiology
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Sweating / physiology
  • Young Adult