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Sports Med. 2005;35(7):619-47.

Physiological and metabolic aspects of very prolonged exercise with particular reference to hill walking.

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1
Department of Physiology and Biophysics, University of Calgary, Faculty of Medicine, Calgary, Canada. painslie@ucalgary.ca

Abstract

Hill walking is a popular recreational activity in the developed world, yet it has the potential to impose severe stress simultaneously upon several regulatory systems. Information regarding the physiological strain imposed by prolonged walking outdoors in adverse climatic conditions was reported almost four decades ago and recent research has extended some of this work. These data indicate that once the walker fatigues and starts to slow or stops walking altogether, the rate of heat production falls dramatically. This decrease alone predisposes to the development of hypothermia. These processes, in adverse weather conditions and/or during periods when the level of exertion is low (with low heat production), will be accelerated. Since the majority of walkers pursue this activity in groups, the less fit walkers may be more susceptible to fatigue when exercising at a higher relative intensity compared with their fitter counterparts. The best physiological offset for hypothermia is to maintain heat production by means of exercise, and so fatigue becomes a critical predisposing factor; it is as important to facilitate heat loss, especially during periods of high exertion, as it is to maintain heat production and preserve insulation. This can be partly achieved by clothing adjustments and consideration of the intensity of exercise. Failure to provide adequate energy intake during hill walking activities has been associated with decreased performance (particularly with respect to balance) and impaired thermoregulation. Such impairments may increase susceptibly to both fatigue and injury whilst pursuing this form of activity outdoors. The prolonged low to moderate intensity of activity experienced during a typical hill walk elicits marked changes in the metabolic and hormonal milieu. Available data suggest that during hill walking, even during periods of acute negative energy balance, blood glucose concentrations are maintained. The maintenance of blood glucose concentrations seems to reflect the presence of an alternative fuel source, a hormonally induced increase in fat mobilisation. Such enhancement of fat mobilisation should make it easier to maintain blood glucose by decreasing carbohydrate oxidation and promoting gluconeogenesis, thus sparing glucose utilisation by active muscle. During strenuous hill walking, older age walkers may be particularly prone to dehydration and decreased physical and mental performance, when compared with their younger counterparts. In summary, high rates of energy expenditure and hypohydration are likely to be closely linked to the activity. Periods of adverse weather, low energy intake, lowered fitness or increased age, can all increase the participants' susceptibility to injury, fatigue and hypothermia in the mountainous environment.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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