Cooling off instead of sweating all day
August 14, 2022 10:45 AM   Subscribe

I do cardio in the morning but to prevent excessive sweating all day I take significant steps (cold water, cold shower, air-dry in cold air, ice packs in key spots) to bring my core temperature to the point where I'm only lightly sweaty. But now I'm wondering how much of the benefit of raising my heart rate and forcing my body to cool itself I'm losing, particularly in terms of calories burned. Anyone know?
posted by Tell Me No Lies to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
It sounds like you are taking those measures only after you have finished exercise. If so, I doubt it would make any measurable difference. Even if you are doing it during exercise, it shouldn't matter. A good role of thumb for cardio is that your heart doesn't know and doesn't care why it is beating faster. Heat does provide stress which requires extra energy, which increases your heart rate.But if you cool yourself, for example by putting ice packs on while you're exercising, that just means that you can devote more energy to the physical activity. That is why athletes like cyclists and runners will try to cool themselves during a race. The only way I could see it making a difference is if you had a fixed pace or workout. But if you're just doing it by feel, then cooling will allow you to run faster, or whatever the equivalent for your activity is.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 11:18 AM on August 14


I don’t think people get less benefit from running in winter than they do during the summer. Nor in cold climates vs hot climates. So it would stand to reason that cooling yourself during the summer wouldn’t give you less benefits. It likely prevents some dehydration, which might make the obvious visual impact less (dehydration makes people look skinny). But the benefits come from moving your muscles and your heart pumping. Not getting heat stroke is good for you!
posted by Bottlecap at 11:37 AM on August 14


IANAD, but if you need ice-packs to get your temperature down, I'd maybe mention that to your doctor? When we lived in the Deep South my partner and I would run year-round, including in the middle of the day during heat advisories, and while the fact that we had essentially worked up to that gradually through the Spring helped, we never hard a hard time cooling down once we had showered, hydrated, and were sitting in an air conditioned room (set to 80 degrees). Maybe it's very normal for there to be a range at how good people are able to self-regulate temperature, but it can't hurt to ask.
posted by coffeecat at 12:04 PM on August 14


Response by poster: It sounds like you are taking those measures only after you have finished exercise.

Yes.

if you need ice-packs to get your temperature down

I live in the tropics and am outside a lot so my body often doesn't get the opportunity to recover. Taking a half hour to force a cooldown is the difference between light sweating and swabbing my forehead all day. That's sort of where this question comes from -- if I go straight from cardio to 95° heat my body clearly spends a lot more time pumping heat around and forcing water out the sweat glands. I just have no idea what that translates to in calories.

I don’t think people get less benefit from running in winter than they do during the summer. Nor in cold climates vs hot climates.

Huh. Everything I've read suggests that exercising in heat burns more calories.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:48 PM on August 14 [1 favorite]


now I'm wondering how much of the benefit of raising my heart rate and forcing my body to cool itself I'm losing, particularly in terms of calories burned.

The best answer I've ever found to the amount of calories one can actually burn off with even quite large amounts of exercise is "distressingly few". In my experience there's way less suffering involved in simply not consuming X number of calories in the first place than in trying to burn off an extra X calories with exercise. The suffering is still there and still real and still a complete pain in my arse and still completely unfair, but it's less.

So it seems to me that the most helpful way to think about exercise is as a thing one does to promote good general health, rather than as a thing one does in order to try to burn off food, and to choose an amount and kind and timing of exercise accordingly.

If you've figured out a regular exercise regimen that suits you, and it includes a post-exercise cooldown process that also suits you, then that's going to be something you'll more than likely keep on doing. And the sustainability of that is going to do you way more good than anything you'd be less comfortable with for fear of smelling bad.

The benefit you're getting from raising your heart rate on the regular will be hundreds of times more consequential than the almost incalculably small difference that could plausibly exist, in calorie consumption terms, between doing the cooldown that's currently working well for you and not.
posted by flabdablet at 12:50 PM on August 14 [6 favorites]


Everything I've read suggests that exercising in heat burns more calories.

Work is work. Exercising in heat won't change the inputs or outputs of your exertion. It will make you sweat more, so you will lose more water weight in the process. Yes, technically this adds more to your body's energy needs during exercise, though this doesn't translate to functional or practical changes in net energy use. You're not using more energy to perform a unit of work because the ambient temperature is higher.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 4:08 AM on August 15


Response by poster: flabdablet wrote...
In my experience there's way less suffering involved in simply not consuming X number of calories in the first place than in trying to burn off an extra X calories with exercise.

Unfortunately there is no amount of non-consumption of calories that will reduce my blood sugar by ten to twenty percent in an hour. :-)

late afternoon dreaming hotel wrote...
Work is work.

There is no machine in the real world that performs equally well at all temperatures. A simple lever is subject to expansion and contraction of its parts, requiring more energy to use when friction or material deformation becomes a problem. Not only that but the human body largely runs on chemical reactions, which are notoriously sensitive to the temperature of the chemicals involved.

Even something as simple as an LED has an optimal operating temperature range, and the amount of energy required to generate the same amount of light goes up as you exit it.

I don't know what this translates to in terms of the extremely complex machine we call the human body, but I do know that simple thermodynamics is not sufficient to describe it.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:35 PM on August 15


Find the article I vaguely remembered, which We also reports that heat causes you to work less hard, but because you feel hot, not because the heat is actually physically demanding. So you might actually want to make cooling efforts during your workout, so that you can work harder.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 1:29 PM on August 15


Ah! If this is a blood sugar question, I suggest testing! Because that’s not really about calories, that’s about metabolism, which are different things. See if you see a difference between proactively cooling or not in your testing. Probably better to do several days worth of tests to make sure you aren’t capturing an outlier. But this is a case where your blood glucose monitor can give you a far more direct answer than any generalized study or information.
posted by Bottlecap at 1:34 PM on August 15 [1 favorite]


Response by poster: Ah! If this is a blood sugar question, I suggest testing!

I test pretty extensively to determine how various foods affect my blood sugar. That's "Test, eat, sit idle for two hours, test again" and I get consistent results with that.

The testing for this was all over the place, I assume because a lot of different things happen in a full day.

In any case from people's answers here and some further reading I've done I think it's safe to say that the difference, if there is one, would be pretty small.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:16 PM on August 15 [1 favorite]


I test pretty extensively to determine how various foods affect my blood sugar. That's "Test, eat, sit idle for two hours, test again" and I get consistent results with that.


If you want high quality information about the difference between exercise with cool down and exercise without on your own blood glucose level, you could try slapping on one of Abbott's Freestyle Libre glucose monitors and collecting a couple of weeks of data from that. They're not bad value and they work quite well. If there's a difference worth pursuing, I'm pretty sure it would show up in the results.

As you correctly note, the human body is a horrendously complex system and I know of no better way to understand how my own particular one operates than observing it as closely and carefully as is practicable. Wearing a CGM for a fortnight gave me a lot of useful insights into the relationships between eating (or not) of assorted amounts and kinds of foods, intensity and timing of exercise, glucose level, appetite and mood as applicable to me specifically, much of which turned out to be at odds with "common knowledge" (I found no correlation at all between feeling grumpy and having low or rapidly declining blood sugar, for example). Might work for you as well.
posted by flabdablet at 11:21 PM on August 15


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