Purpose: This study was designed to determine whether age-related impairments in whole-body heat loss, which are known to exist in dry heat, also occur in humid heat in women.
Methods: To evaluate this possibility, 10 young (25 ± 4 yr) and 10 older (51 ± 7 yr) women matched for body surface area (young, 1.69 ± 0.11; older, 1.76 ± 0.14 m, P = 0.21) and peak oxygen consumption (V˙O2peak) (young, 38.6 ± 4.6; older, 34.8 ± 6.6 mL·kg·min, P = 0.15) performed four 15-min bouts of cycling at a fixed metabolic heat production rate (300 W; equivalent to ~45% V˙O2peak), each separated by a 15-min recovery, in dry (35°C, 20% relative humidity) and humid heat (35°C, 60% relative humidity). Total heat loss (evaporative ± dry heat exchange) and metabolic heat production were measured using direct and indirect calorimetry, respectively. Body heat storage was measured as the temporal summation of heat production and loss.
Results: Total heat loss was lower in humid conditions compared with dry conditions during all exercise bouts in both groups (all P < 0.05), resulting in 49% and 39% greater body heat storage in young and older women, respectively (both P < 0.01). Total heat loss was also lower in older women compared with young women during exercise bouts 1, 2 and 3 in dry heat (all P < 0.05) and bouts 1 and 2 in humid heat (both P < 0.05). Consequently, body heat storage was 29% and 16% greater in older women compared with young women in dry and humid conditions, respectively (both P < 0.05).
Conclusions: Increasing ambient humidity reduces heat loss capacity in young and older women. However, older women display impaired heat loss relative to young women in both dry and humid heat, and may therefore be at greater risk of heat-related injury during light-to-moderate activity.