Exercise Comfort

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It’s no secret that a cool exercise environment leads to a more pleasant workout — after all, that’s why gyms have fans and air conditioning. But according to a recent study, keeping your hands cool may even improve exercise performance, although it is unknown exactly how this effect occurs and in what situations it holds true.

The study, presented last month at the EPI/NPAM (Epidemiology and Prevention/Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism) 2012 Scientific Sessions of the American Heart Association, involved 24 obese women ages 30–45. According to a post on the study at the Los Angeles Times blog Booster Shots, all of the women exercised three days a week for a total of 12 weeks. Only some of them, however, held palm-cooling devices with a temperature of about 61°F (16°C). The others held similar devices that were kept at the normal human body temperature of 98.6°F (37°C). Both groups were assigned workouts with a target length of 45 minutes at 80% of participants’ maximum heart rate.

At the end of the 12 weeks, members of the group with cooled palms had cut an average of five minutes off their time needed to walk 1.5 miles (2.4 km), had reduced their waist circumference by nearly 3 inches (7.6 cm), and had lowered their resting blood pressure. The group with uncooled palms saw no significant changes.

It is unknown whether, in this study, external hand temperature had a direct effect on metabolism, or whether cooler hands simply increased exercise comfort and let participants exert more energy than they otherwise would have been willing to tolerate. While studies on the link between exercise temperature and metabolism are limited, available evidence suggests that cooler temperatures don’t directly lead to more energy expenditure. According to a New York Times “Q & A” column from 2010, a study conducted by the Naval Medical Research Institute in 1991 found that some processes in the body associated with fat metabolism actually slowed down when exercise was performed in a cold environment.

Do you find exercising to be easier in a cool environment? With cool — or dry — hands in particular? What’s your ideal temperature range for exercise? Do you find it more difficult to work out when you perspire more, or more than usual? Any tips to share for keeping cool? Leave a comment below!

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