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The importance of aerobic fitness in determining tolerance to uncompensable heat stress.

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Defence and Civil Institute of Environmental Medicine, Environmental and Applied Ergonomics Section, P.O. Box 2000, Ontario M3M 3B9, Toronto, Canada.


When protective clothing is worn that restricts evaporative heat loss, it is not valid to assume that the higher sweat rates associated with improvements in aerobic fitness will increase heat tolerance. An initial study compared thermoregulatory and cardiovascular responses to both compensable and uncompensable heat stress before and after 8 weeks of endurance training in previously sedentary males. Despite a 15% improvement in VO2peak, and lower heart rates and rectal temperature (T(re)) responses while wearing combat clothing, no changes were noted when subjects wore a protective clothing ensemble. Tolerance times were unchanged at approximately 50 min. A subsequent short-term training model that used daily 1-h exercise sessions for 2 weeks also failed to show any benefit when the protective clothing was worn in the heat. Cross-sectional comparisons between groups of high and low aerobic fitness, however, have revealed that a high aerobic fitness is associated with extended tolerance time when the protective clothing is worn. The longer tolerance time is a function of both a lower starting T(re) and a higher T(re) tolerated at exhaustion. Improvements in cardiovascular function with long-term training may allow higher core temperatures to be reached prior to exhaustion. Conversely, elevations in core temperature that occur with normal training sessions may familiarize the more fit subjects to the discomforts of exercise in the heat. Other factors such as differences in body fatness may account for a faster increase in tissue temperature at a given metabolic rate for less fit individuals.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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