A century of exercise physiology: concepts that ignited the study of human thermoregulation. Part 2: physiological measurements

Sean R. Notley, Duncan Mitchell, Nigel A.S. Taylor

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


In this, the second of four historical reviews on human thermoregulation during exercise, we examine the research techniques developed by our forebears. We emphasise calorimetry and thermometry, and measurements of vasomotor and sudomotor function. Since its first human use (1899), direct calorimetry has provided the foundation for modern respirometric methods for quantifying metabolic rate, and remains the most precise index of whole-body heat exchange and storage. Its alternative, biophysical modelling, relies upon many, often dubious assumptions. Thermometry, used for >300 y to assess deep-body temperatures, provides only an instantaneous snapshot of the thermal status of tissues in contact with any thermometer. Seemingly unbeknownst to some, thermal time delays at some surrogate sites preclude valid measurements during non-steady state conditions. To assess cutaneous blood flow, immersion plethysmography was introduced (1875), followed by strain-gauge plethysmography (1949) and then laser-Doppler velocimetry (1964). Those techniques allow only local flow measurements, which may not reflect whole-body blood flows. Sudomotor function has been estimated from body-mass losses since the 1600s, but using mass losses to assess evaporation rates requires precise measures of non-evaporated sweat, which are rarely obtained. Hygrometric methods provide data for local sweat rates, but not local evaporation rates, and most local sweat rates cannot be extrapolated to reflect whole-body sweating. The objective of these methodological overviews and critiques is to provide a deeper understanding of how modern measurement techniques were developed, their underlying assumptions, and the strengths and weaknesses of the measurements used for humans exercising and working in thermally challenging conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2587-2685
Number of pages99
JournalEuropean Journal of Applied Physiology
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023


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