, Volume 43, Issue 3, pp 99-109

Human morphology and temperature regulation

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Abstract 

For nearly a century individuals have believed that there is a link between human morphology and one’s thermoregulatory response in adverse environments. Most early research was focussed on the rate of core cooling in a male adult population and the role of subcutaneous adipose tissue, surface area and the surface-area-to-mass ratio in one’s ability to withstand varying degrees of cold stress. More recently research has addressed heat tolerance in various populations, exploring the role of subcutaneous adipose tissue, surface area and the surface-area-to-mass ratio in one’s ability to maintain thermal equilibrium in warm and hot, dry and humid environments. Since the late 1970s an emphasis has been placed on the role of muscle and muscle perfusion in total-body thermal insulation. Yet, despite the history of research pertaining to human morphology and temperature regulation there is little consensus as to the impact of variations in human morphology on thermoregulatory responses. Individuals differing in body size, shape and composition appear to respond quantitatively differently to variations in both ambient and core temperatures but the interrelations between morphological components and temperature regulation are complex. It is the purpose of this paper to examine the literature pertaining to the impact of variations in muscularity, adipose tissue thickness and patterning, surface area and the surface-area-to-mass ratio on thermoregulation and thermal stability in response to both heat and cold stress.

Received: 6 May 1999 / Accepted: 14 July 1999