Journal of Applied Physiology

Physical fitness and thermoregulatory reactions in a cold environment in men

J. H. Bittel, C. Nonotte-Varly, G. H. Livecchi-Gonnot, G. L. Savourey, A. M. Hanniquet


The relationship between the physical fitness level (maximal O2 consumption, VO2max) and thermoregulatory reactions was studied in 17 adult males submitted to an acute cold exposure. Standard cold tests were performed in nude subjects, lying for 2 h in a climatic chamber at three ambient air temperatures (10, 5, and 1 degrees C). The level of physical fitness conditioned the intensity of thermoregulatory reactions to cold. For all subjects, there was a direct relationship between physical fitness and 1) metabolic heat production, 2) level of mean skin temperature (Tsk), 3) level of skin conductance, and 4) level of Tsk at the onset of shivering. The predominance of thermogenic or insulative reactions depended on the intensity of the cold stress: insulative reactions were preferential at 10 degrees C, or even at 5 degrees C, whereas colder ambient temperature (1 degree C) triggered metabolic heat production abilities, which were closely related to the subject's physical fitness level. Fit subjects have more efficient thermoregulatory abilities against cold stress than unfit subjects, certainly because of an improved sensitivity of the thermoregulatory system.