In recent weeks, the United States has been experiencing a sweltering summer, with temperatures reaching record highs in many cities. Heat alerts have been issued for over 100 million Americans, indicating the severity of the situation. While some individuals may struggle to cope with the extreme heat, others seem to handle it with ease. This raises the question of whether heat tolerance is primarily determined by genetics or if it can be improved through training and adaptation.
According to experts, genetics likely play a partial role in heat tolerance. Just as some people have a natural athletic ability, some individuals may have a better physiological capacity to withstand high temperatures. However, aerobic fitness can also contribute to heat tolerance. Those who are physically fit have good cardiovascular capacity, allowing them to dissipate heat more effectively.
Various factors can influence an individual's heat tolerance. Being overweight or obese can make it more challenging to handle the heat, as the additional layer of insulation hinders heat dissipation. Medical conditions such as diabetes can also affect an individual's ability to cool down, as they can damage sweat glands and blood vessels. Additionally, certain medications can impact heat tolerance. Age is another factor, with infants, young children, and older adults being more susceptible to heat-related issues.
Experts suggest that regularly being active in the heat can help individuals become more heat-tolerant. Training in the heat gradually and with caution can lead to adaptation and improved heat tolerance. The process involves stressing the body for short periods and then allowing time to cool down. This stimulates the production of "heat shock" proteins, which aid in managing heat stress.
To acclimatize to the heat, it is also recommended to limit the use of air conditioning. Going from a scorching outdoor environment to a cold indoor space can hinder the body's ability to adapt to higher temperatures. Experts recommend keeping indoor temperatures no more than 10 degrees cooler than outside.
Researchers are investigating the potential role of the supplement betaine in improving heat tolerance. Animal studies have shown promising results, but further research is needed to determine its effectiveness in humans.
In real-life scenarios, individuals have developed their own strategies for coping with the heat. Some rely on protective clothing, such as hats and neck covers, to shield themselves from the sun. Others prioritize hydration by drinking ample amounts of water and avoiding dehydrating substances like alcohol.
As extreme heat becomes more prevalent, learning to manage and tolerate high temperatures is becoming increasingly important. While genetics may play a role in an individual's heat tolerance, it is possible to improve it through training and adaptation. By implementing strategies like gradual exposure to heat and limiting the use of air conditioning, individuals can better handle the sweltering summer temperatures.