Journal of Applied Physiology

Effect of age on heat-activated sweat gland density and flow during exercise in dry heat

R. K. Anderson, W. L. Kenney


Physiological responses of eight postmenopausal older women (age 52–62 yr) and eight younger women (age 20–30 yr) were compared during moderate intensity exercise in a hot dry environment (48 degrees C dry bulb, 25 degrees C wet bulb). The age groups were matched on the basis of maximal O2 consumption (VO2max), body surface area, and body fatness. After heat acclimation the women walked at 40% VO2max for up to 2 h in the hot dry environment while heart rate (HR), rectal temperature (Tre), mean skin temperature (Tsk), whole-body sweating rate (Msw), and local sweating rates (msw; forearm, chest, and scapula) were measured. Additionally, the density of heat-activated sweat glands (HASG) was determined and average sweat gland flow (SGF) was calculated for the scapular area. Although no differences between age groups were found in HR response (when analyzed as percent of maximal HR) or Tsk, the older women had a significantly higher Tre throughout the heat-exercise session. The greater heat storage of the older women may be explained by their significantly lower Msw and msw. There were no differences between the younger and older women in the density of HASG after 30 min; therefore, the lower msw reflects a diminished output per HASG rather than a decrease in the number of sweat glands recruited. The diminished thermoregulatory ability of the older women, unrelated to differences in VO2max, appears to reflect either 1) a diminished response of the sweat glands to central and/or peripheral stimuli, or 2) an age-related structural alteration in the eccrine glands or surrounding skin cells.