Overheating Is A Serious Barrier To Exercise

A study done by Stanford had two dozen middle-aged obese women walk on a treadmill for a mile and a half. Half the women got their bodies cooled by sticking their palms in a device that runs ice water through itself — kind of like a car radiator cools the engine. The other half also had their hands in the device, but water at room temperature ran through it. After three months: the cool women shaved five minutes off their walk, lost 3″ off their waist, and were more likely to not quit the study early.


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Walking 1.5 miles should take somewhere around 27 minutes, give or take, so shaving off five minutes is a pretty big deal: almost 20% faster; three inches thinner is also nothing to sneeze at. The NPR article on the study implies that overheating is mostly a psychological problem, possibly because if you overheat too much you’ll likely just faint. Elite athletes also overheat, but they push through it. Novices on the other hand, especially fat ones, think it’s the end of the world. It also doesn’t help that fat is an insulator, so the feeling of overheating gets worse the more of it there is.

The bottom line is that psychological or not, overheating is a significant deterrent to working out, and the more weight you need to lose, the more of a deterrent it is. As such, it’s important that measures are taken against overheating, because the less barriers there are in front of exercising, the better. The ice-water device used in the study is a non-starter because it costs 4,000$. But there are less expensive workarounds:

  • When working out, always wear clothing made out of moisture-wicking technical fiber. These fabrics use capillary action to make the sweat evaporate faster, which helps you sweat more, which helps to cool down more.
  • Run outside when it’s cool (around sunrise, after sunsent, in the winter) or work out indoors, with serious air conditioning
  • Put a lot of ice in your water bottle
  • Hold something cold in your hand and touch it to your face when overheating — ice pack, bottle of ice water, etc
  • Go swimming instead of running: the 80° pool water is like a giant cooler, and swimming is one of the best forms of exercising due to the use of the whole body and its low-impact nature
  • Go biking instead of running: even when it’s hot out, the breeze generated at 14mph does a lot to both cool you down and evaporate sweat; and it’s also a low-impact sport


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