Age-related decrements in heat dissipation during physical activity occur as early as the age of 40

PLoS One. 2013 Dec 12;8(12):e83148. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0083148. eCollection 2013.


Older adults typically experience greater levels of thermal strain during physical efforts in the heat compared to young individuals. While this may be related to an age-dependent reduction in whole-body sweating, no study has clearly delineated at what age this occurs. In the present study, we report direct measurements of human heat dissipation during physical activity in the heat in males ranging in age from 20-70 years. Eighty-five males performed four 15-min bouts of cycling separated by 15-min rest periods, in a calorimeter regulated to 35°C and 20% relative humidity. Direct calorimetry was used to measure total heat loss (whole-body evaporative heat loss and dry heat exchange). We also used indirect calorimetry as a continuous measure of metabolic heat production. Body heat storage was calculated as the temporal summation of heat production and total heat loss over the experimental session. Whole-body sweat rate (WBSR) was calculated from measurements of evaporative heat loss. Males were divided into five age categories for the analysis of WBSR and body heat storage: 20-31 years (n = 18), 40-44 years (n = 15), 45-49 years (n = 15), 50-55 years (n = 21) and 56-70 years (n = 16). Relative to young males, WBSR was reduced in males aged 56-70 during each exercise (all P<0.05), in males aged 50-55 during the second (P = 0.031) and third exercises (P = 0.028) and in males aged 45-49 during the final exercise bout (P = 0.046). Although not significantly different, 40-44 years old males also had a lower rate of heat loss compared to younger males. Over the sum of two hours, the change in body heat content was greater in males 40-70 years compared to young males (all P<0.05). Our findings suggest that middle-aged and older adults have impairments in heat dissipation when doing physical activity in the heat, thus possibly increasing their risk of heat-related illness under such conditions.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Sweating / physiology*
  • Thermogenesis / physiology*