• Vol. 37 No. 4, 347–353
  • 15 April 2008

Human Thermoregulation and Measurement of Body Temperature in Exercise and Clinical Settings

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ABSTRACT

This review discusses human thermoregulation during exercise and the measurement of body temperature in clinical and exercise settings. The thermoregulatory mechanisms play important roles in maintaining physiological homeostasis during rest and physical exercise. Physical exertion poses a challenge to thermoregulation by causing a substantial increase in metabolic heat production. However, within a non-thermolytic range, the thermoregulatory mechanisms are capable of adapting to sustain physiological functions under these conditions. The central nervous system may also rely on hyperthermia to protect the body from “overheating.” Hyperthermia may serve as a self-limiting signal that triggers central inhibition of exercise performance when a temperature threshold is achieved. Exposure to sub-lethal heat stress may also confer tolerance against higher doses of heat stress by inducing the production of heat shock proteins, which protect cells against the thermolytic effects of heat. Advances in body temperature measurement also contribute to research in thermoregulation. Current evidence supports the use of oral temperature measurement in the clinical setting, although it may not be as convenient as tympanic temperature measurement using the infrared temperature scanner. Rectal and oesophagus temperatures are widely accepted surrogate measurements of core temperature (Tc), but they cause discomfort and are less likely to be accepted by users. Gastrointestinal temperature measurement using the ingestible temperature sensor provides an acceptable level of accuracy as a surrogate measure of Tc without causing discomfort to the user. This form of Tc measurement also allows Tc to be measured continuously in the field and has gained wider acceptance in the last decade.


The ability to sense and regulate body temperature is a key feature of human survival. A deviation of ± 3.5°C from the resting temperature of 37°C can result in physiological impairments and fatality. Some researchers suggested that heat could have played a central role in the synthesis and survival of the first unicellular organism on earth, and the ability to sense and regulate body temperature contributed to the evolution of these unicellular organisms to multicellular cold blooded creatures (e.g., fishes, reptiles and amphibians) and warm-blooded mammals.

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