Exercise, performance and temperature control: temperature regulation during exercise and implications for sports performance and training

Sports Med. Jan-Feb 1985;2(1):8-20. doi: 10.2165/00007256-198502010-00002.


Thermoregulation is an important consideration not only for athletic performance but also for the safety of the athlete. This article presents a broad overview of the mechanisms by which body heat is dissipated in an individual exercising in a hot environment. Particularly emphasised are more recent views of body heat loss mechanisms and the influences of non-thermal inputs, such as effects due to changing blood volume or blood flow distribution. During exercise in a hot environment, metabolic heat produced by the exercising muscles is transported by the circulating blood to the surface of the body where it is released to the environment, either by radiation and convection or by evaporation of sweat. The primary drives for both the increased skin blood flow and increased body sweating are the thermal inputs which are sensed by receptors in the deep body core, with a lesser drive from skin receptors. These thermal signals are integrated in the hypothalamus and proper heat loss responses are effected. When exercise is prolonged, however, and body rehydration is not adequate, the total blood volume may be compromised. In addition, as the core temperature increases during exercise, larger proportions of the blood volume are distributed to the cutaneous vessels, thus effectively reducing cardiac return and central blood volume. During severe exercise, a reduction in cardiac filling may result in a fall in central venous pressure and stimulate baroreceptor vasoconstrictor reflexes. As discussed below, the outputs from these baroreceptors compete with and modify the thermal drives for both the control of the skin blood flow and control of the sweat glands. The effect of high ambient temperatures on exercise performance is most evident in prolonged submaximal exercise. Normally, maximal exercise performance is not altered by high temperatures unless the individual has an elevated deep body temperature before the start of the exercise task. However, submaximal exercise performance is often impaired by high ambient temperatures, but may be improved by programmes of physical training and heat acclimatisation. Both training and heat acclimatisation significantly modify the control systems which regulate skin blood flow and sweating. Only acclimatisation programmes, however, are effective in preventing heat stress during prolonged exercise in hot environments.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blood Volume
  • Body Temperature Regulation*
  • Cats
  • Eccrine Glands / innervation
  • Heating
  • Humans
  • Osmolar Concentration
  • Physical Education and Training*
  • Physical Exertion*
  • Positive-Pressure Respiration
  • Posture
  • Regional Blood Flow
  • Skin Physiological Phenomena
  • Sports*
  • Sweat / metabolism
  • Sweat Glands / physiology
  • Sympathetic Nervous System / physiology
  • Vasodilation
  • Water Loss, Insensible