Stay cool: A guide to exercising while human

Contributor - Caela Fenton

Here’s a fun fact for you: elephants and jackrabbits can radiate heat from their ears to help keep them cool, some animals cover themselves in mud to prevent themselves from overheating and some animals enter a period of “estivation” (which is pretty much a heat-avoidance hibernation) when it gets hot…humans, not so much. We do have some pretty great mechanisms for keeping cool; if you’ve ever touched a cold metal railing and felt heat transfer, you’ve experienced conduction, if you’ve ever stood in front of a fan, you’ve lost heat through convection and if you’ve ever had a bead of sweat drip from your forehead, you’ve experienced evaporation. If you really want a fun human fact though…the average human has 2.6 million sweat glands. 

The part of our brains that acts as the body’s “thermostat,” so to speak, is located in the hypothalamus. It tracks your temperature and alters your physiology accordingly. So, when you’re out for a run on a hot day or working hard in a stuffy gym, your body’s first reaction is to send blood closer to the surface of the skin to expend heat more easily. This results in the “whoa, my face is a tomato” feeling. The places where blood vessels are closest to the surface and can be pressed against bone to feel one’s pulse are called pulse points. We commonly associate pulse points with our wrists and neck, since those are the areas where medical practitioners generally take a pulse, but there are actually nine pulse points in the body.

You might be thinking: so what if I turn red when I’m working out? Is staying cool really that important? 

Well, when your body sends blood closer to the skin’s surface, it means that blood is no longer within your muscles. Since exercise is dependent on blood flow to the muscles, your heart works overtime to supply more blood to the muscles, raising your heart rate. In endurance sports especially, keeping one’s heart rate under control is essential to maintain performance for extended periods of time.

Apart from the performance hindering element of a raised heart rate that couples excessive sweating, dehydration, light-headedness, heat exhaustion and, in the worst-case scenario, heatstroke, are all risks associated with exercising in extreme heat. In cases where humidity is present, the effects of heat may be exacerbated by the fact that sweat cannot evaporate.

One of the best ways to keep cool if you’re a human; apply ice to your body’s pulse points!