Thermal sensitivity to warmth during rest and exercise: a sex comparison

Purpose: The study aimed to compare thermal sensation in response to a fixed warm stimulus across 31 body locations in resting and active males and females. Methods Twelve males (20.6 ± 1.0 years, 78.1 ± 15.6 kg, 180 ± 8.9 cm, 34.4 ± 5.2 ml kg min) and 12 females (20.6 ± 1.4 years, 62.9 ± 5.5 kg, 167 ± 5.7 cm, 36.5 ± 6.6 ml kg min) rested in a thermoneutral (22.2 ± 2.2 °C, 35.1 ± 5.8 % RH) room whilst a thermal probe (25 cm), set at 40 °C was applied in a balanced order to 31 locations across the body. Participants reported their thermal sensation 10 s after initial application. Following this, participants began cycling at 50 % (Formula presented.) for 20 min, which was then lowered to 30 % (Formula presented.) and the sensitivity test repeated. Results Females had significantly warmer magnitude sensations than males at all locations (4.7 ± 1.8 vs 3.6 ± 2.2, p < 0.05, respectively). Regional differences in thermal sensation were evident but were more prominent for females. Thermal sensation was greatest at the head then the torso and declined towards the extremities. In comparison to rest, exercise caused a significant reduction in thermal sensation for males ({increment}thermal sensation; 0.86 ± 0.3, p < 0.05), but only at select locations in females (0.31 ± 0.56, p > 0.05). Conclusion The data provide evidence that the thermal sensation response to warmth varies between genders and between body regions and reduces during exercise. These findings have important implications for clothing design and thermophysiological modelling.