New Study Finds Men and Women Have Different ‘Thermal Behavior’ When Exercising

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The human body has natural ways in which it responds to temperature (think getting goosebumps when you’re cold, and sweating when you’re hot). But humans also have voluntary ways in which they respond to temperature, like throwing on a scarf when the temperature dips or removing a jacket in a stuffy room. This is known as thermal behavior.

Now, a new study finds that there are sex differences in thermal behavior.

You’re hot and you’re cold

The study, which was performed at the School of Public Health and Professions at the University at Buffalo, selected 20 participants (10 male and 10 female) in their early 20s and had them exercise at low intensity on a stationary bike for one hour. While each participant was on the stationary bike, a tubing system was directly contacting their neck.

This system was capable of releasing a mist of varying temperatures and participants were asked to “thermally behave” by opening the valve whenever their neck was uncomfortably warm. As soon as the participants felt comfortable again, they would turn the valve off. Once off, the temperature of the water in the valve would increase to 93 degrees again.

School of Public Health and Health Professions at the University at Buffalo

The results are in

After an hour of exercise, the results found the female participants wanted more cooling than the male participants, regardless of having similar changes in overall body temperature.

But why?

Researchers believe the differences in thermal behavior can be attributed to fat. Since women have more subcutaneous fat than men, they needed more cooling power to get to the comfortable state. Researchers also noted that women typically have greater perceptual responses to temperature changes than men.

The future of thermal behavior research

These results might not surprise you, but thermal behavior research is hoping to change people’s lives for the better. “We’re interested in determining whether people with MS use thermal behavior appropriately and if that can help mitigate some of the symptoms they feel while exercising,” says Nicole Vargas, lead author of the study and postdoctoral fellow. “This whole line of thermal behavior research has opened up a lot of doors for us.”