Journal of Applied Physiology

Influence of aerobic fitness and body fatness on tolerance to uncompensable heat stress

Glen A. Selkirk, Tom M. McLellan


This study examined the independent and combined importance of aerobic fitness and body fatness on physiological tolerance and exercise time during weight-bearing exercise while wearing a semipermeable protective ensemble. Twenty-four men and women were matched for aerobic fitness and body fatness in one of four groups (4 men and 2 women in each group). Aerobic fitness was expressed per kilogram of lean body mass (LBM) to eliminate the influence of body fatness on the expression of fitness. Subjects were defined as trained (T; regularly active with a peak aerobic power of 65 ml · kg LBM−1 · min−1) or untrained (UT; sedentary with a peak aerobic power of 53 ml · kg LBM−1 · min−1) with high (High; 20%) or low (Low; 11%) body fatness. Subjects exercised until exhaustion or until rectal temperature reached 39.5°C or heart rate reached 95% of maximum. Exercise times were significantly greater in TLow(116 ± 6.5 min) compared with their matched sedentary (UTLow; 70 ± 3.6 min) or fatness (THigh; 82 ± 3.9 min) counterparts, indicating an advantage for both a high aerobic fitness and low body fatness. However, similar effects were not evident between THigh and UTHigh(74 ± 4.1 min) or between the UT groups (UTLow and UTHigh). The major advantage attributed to a higher aerobic fitness was the ability to tolerate a higher core temperature at exhaustion (the difference being as great as 0.9°C), whereas both body fatness and rate of heat storage affected the exercise time as independent factors.

  • rectal temperature
  • protective clothing
  • heat tolerance
  • heat storage
  • metabolic rate


  • Address for reprint requests and other correspondence: T. M. McLellan, Defence and Civil Institute of Environmental Medicine, Head/Environmental and Applied Ergonomics Section, P.O. Box 2000, Toronto, ON, Canada M3M 3B9 (E-mail:tom.mclellan{at}

  • The costs of publication of this article were defrayed in part by the payment of page charges. The article must therefore be hereby marked “advertisement” in accordance with 18 U.S.C. Section 1734 solely to indicate this fact.

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