We tested the hypothesis that thermal behavior is greater during and after high- compared with moderate-intensity exercise. In a 27°C, 20% relative humidity environment, 20 participants (10 women, 10 men) cycled for 30 min at moderate [53% (SD 6) peak oxygen uptake (V̇o2peak) or high [78% (SD 6) V̇o2peak] intensity, followed by 120 min of recovery. Mean skin and core temperatures and mean skin wettedness were recorded continuously. Participants maintained thermally comfortable neck temperatures with a custom-made neck device. Neck device temperature provided an index of thermal behavior. The weighted average of mean skin and core temperatures and mean skin wettedness provided an indication of the afferent stimulus to thermally behave. Mean skin and core temperatures were greater at end-exercise in high intensity (P < 0.01). Core temperature remained elevated in high intensity until 70 min of recovery (P = 0.03). Mean skin wettedness and the afferent stimulus were greater at 10-20 min of exercise in high intensity (P ≤ 0.03) and remained elevated until 60 min of recovery (P < 0.01). Neck device temperature was lower during exercise in high versus moderate intensity (P ≤ 0.02). There was a strong relation between the afferent stimulus and neck device temperature during exercise (high: R2 = 0.82, P < 0.01; moderate: R2 = 0.95, P < 0.01) and recovery (high: R2 = 0.97, P < 0.01; moderate: R2 = 0.93, P < 0.01). During exercise, slope (P = 0.49) and y-intercept (P = 0.91) did not differ between intensities. In contrast, slope was steeper (P < 0.01) and y-intercept was higher (P < 0.01) during recovery from high-intensity exercise. Thermal behavior is greater during high-intensity exercise because of the greater stimulus to behave. The withdrawal of thermal behavior is augmented after high-intensity exercise. NEW & NOTEWORTHY This is the first study to determine the effects of exercise intensity on thermal behavior. We show that exercise intensity does not independently modulate thermal behavior during exercise but is dependent on the magnitude of afferent stimuli. In contrast, the withdrawal of thermal behavior after high-intensity exercise is augmented. This may be a consequence of an attenuated perceptual response to afferent stimuli, which may be due to processes underlying postexercise hypoalgesia.
Keywords: exercise; recovery; thermoafferent feedback; thermoregulation; thermoregulatory behavior.