Whole-body heat exchange in women during constant- and variable-intensity work in the heat

Eur J Appl Physiol. 2020 Dec;120(12):2665-2675. doi: 10.1007/s00421-020-04486-3. Epub 2020 Sep 9.


Purpose: Time-weighted averaging is used in occupational heat stress guidelines to estimate the metabolic demands of variable-intensity work. However, compared to constant-intensity work of the same time-weighted average metabolic rate, variable-intensity work may cause decrements in total heat loss (dry + evaporative heat loss) that exacerbate heat storage in women. We therefore used direct calorimetry to assess whole-body total heat loss and heat storage (metabolic heat production minus total heat loss) in women and men during constant- and variable-intensity work of equal average intensity.

Methods: Ten women [mean (SD); 31 (11) years] and fourteen men [30 (8) years] completed two trials involving 90-min of constant- and variable-intensity work (cycling) eliciting an average metabolic heat production of ~ 200 W/m2 in dry-heat (40 °C, ~ 15% relative humidity). External work was fixed at ~ 40 W/m2 for constant-intensity work, and alternated between ~ 15 and ~ 60 W/m2 (5-min each) for variable-intensity work.

Results: When expressed as a time-weighted average over each work period, total heat loss did not differ between men and women (mean difference [95% CI]; 4 W/m2 [- 11, 20]; p = 0.572) or between constant- and variable-intensity work (1 W/m2 [- 3, 5]; p = 0.642). Consequently, heat storage did not differ significantly between men and women (- 4 W/m2 [- 17, 8]; p = 0.468) or between constant- and variable-intensity work (0 W/m2 [- 3, 3]; p = 0.834).

Conclusion: Neither whole-body heat loss nor heat storage was modulated by the partitioning of work intensity, indicating that time-weighted averaging is appropriate for estimating metabolic demand to assess occupational heat stress in women.

Keywords: Calorimetry; Heat exchange; Heat strain; Sex; Work.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Body Temperature / physiology*
  • Body Temperature Regulation / physiology
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Female
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Heat Stress Disorders / physiopathology
  • Heat-Shock Response / physiology
  • Hot Temperature
  • Humans
  • Humidity
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Thermogenesis / physiology*
  • Young Adult