Use your head when exercising in the heat. That is the overt message of a series of recent studies showing that cooling the neck before exercise in hot, humid conditions can improve athletic performance. But the research also raises this provocative issue: Even if you can exercise harder in the heat, is it really a good idea to do so?
The experiments in question began several years ago, when researchers at Roehampton University in London found that healthy young men could cover significantly more distance during a timed run on treadmills in a hot laboratory if they supplemented their workout gear with an ice-cold strap-on neck collar. The collar, lined with flexible artificial-ice packs, noticeably lowered the skin temperature on the men’s necks. But the collars did not lower their body temperatures over all. So how and why, wondered the researchers, did starting an exercise session with a cool neck — not a body part normally associated with running ability — affect the men’s performance?
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