There’s a good reason why the temperatures at the gym are more likely to be frosty than tropical, as research shows that it is preferable to sweat from effort rather than overheating.
It is often believed that sweating profusely will help people shed pounds, and that is true to some extent. But running under scorching temperatures is just as fun as doing so in a plastic sweat jacket. In fact, while workouts usually bring a sense of relaxation and mental alertness, exercising under hot and humid conditions only contributes to drain one’s energy and sour their mood.
Although one can easily tell how unproductive it is to work out outdoors during a heat wave, new research from the University of Nebraska actually proves that these feelings aren't just a subjective reaction or excuse to avoid working out during the summer months. In reality, the hot and humid conditions do affect the muscles negatively and make exercising harder than it should be.
These findings are just a sneak peek into a much larger study that is being conducted at the School of Health and Kinesiology about how different climates affect muscles and performance during exercise. This research goes far beyond athletic performance, as researchers have been specifically looking at mitochondria, which is responsible for generating power and energy on a cellular level.
Seeing as mitochondrial dysfunction has been linked to conditions like obesity, diabetes and premature aging, the research team has been trying to find the ideal temperature for exercising, which will promote optimal performance, lower the occurrence of such dysfunctions and hopefully also lower the rates of the aforementioned conditions.
To conduct the research, the medical team has placed 56 participants in a room with regulated temperatures that go from scorching, to comfortable and cool. Muscle tissue samples were taken from these subjects immediately after an hour-long cycling session and then again a few hours later. The researchers then analyzed the tissue to document how the cells react to stimulation and how proteins move within them. While the research will only be ready for publishing a year and a half from now, a consistent pattern can already be observed.
Up to this point, participants have fared much better in the colder conditions, after experiencing some initial discomfort, as their bodies generate heat during the exercising period. On the other hand, the warm environment seemed to challenge the subjects' bodies in a negative way.
One good explanation for this might be that while the body does sweat profusely, the moisture in the air doesn’t allow it to evaporate quickly. This keeps the body from effectively cooling down and impacts performance negatively.
The same phenomenon was observed in the mitochondria, which showed a higher rate of development with one session performed at room temperature or cold conditions than it did in the heat.