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

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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.


Twelve males (20.6 ± 1.0 years, 78.1 ± 15.6 kg, 180 ± 8.9 cm, 34.4 ± 5.2 ml kg−1 min−1) and 12 females (20.6 ± 1.4 years, 62.9 ± 5.5 kg, 167 ± 5.7 cm, 36.5 ± 6.6 ml kg−1 min−1) rested in a thermoneutral (22.2 ± 2.2 °C, 35.1 ± 5.8 % RH) room whilst a thermal probe (25 cm2), 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 % \(\dot{V}{\text{O}}_{{ 2 {\text{max}}}}\) for 20 min, which was then lowered to 30 % \(\dot{V}{\text{O}}_{{ 2 {\text{max}}}}\) and the sensitivity test repeated.


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 (∆thermal sensation; 0.86 ± 0.3, p < 0.05), but only at select locations in females (0.31 ± 0.56, p > 0.05).


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.

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Body surface area (m2)

D b :

Total body density (g cc−1)


Exercise-induced analgesia

T b :

Body temperature (°C)

T c :

Core temperature (°C)


Transient receptor potential vanilloid

T sk :

Skin temperature (°C)


Body fat percentage (%)


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The authors would like to acknowledge the continued support from Oxylane Research during this study, in particular Dr. Sophie Herpin.

Conflict of interest

The present research was done in the context of an industry—co-funded PhD by Oxylane Research (Decathlon R&D Department) and the Loughborough Design School (Environmental Ergonomics Research Centre). Bernard Redortier and Thomas Voelcker, members of the sponsoring industry (Oxylane Research), contributed to the conception and design of the experiment and contributed to the paper write-up. Nicola Gerrett and George Havenith were fully responsible for conducting the trials and the data analysis. The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Correspondence to George Havenith.

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Communicated by Narihiko Kondo.

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Gerrett, N., Ouzzahra, Y., Coleby, S. et al. Thermal sensitivity to warmth during rest and exercise: a sex comparison. Eur J Appl Physiol 114, 1451–1462 (2014).

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