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The male's larger body mass makes him more prone to heat stroke and dehydration.

by Ivan Olegario, M.D.

MARCH 2012

Some time ago, an antiperspirant commercial featured male cheerleaders and the line, “Men sweat more than women.” As the summer months approach, body odor may be the least of a man’s problems. The sizzling summer heat also brings a barrage of health-related illnesses, including heat exhaustion, a condition where the body becomes dehydrated and weak as a result of environmental heat exposure. In most cases, the body temperature can also rise above the normal level of 37 degrees Celsius.

Once body temperature reaches 40 degrees Celsius, it becomes heat stroke, which can be deadly. The symptoms of heat exhaustion are:

• pale, cool, moist skin that’s sweating profusely;
• racing pulse that may be faint;
• muscle cramps or pains;
• fainting, dizziness, clumsiness, or stumbling; and
• occasional headache, weakness, thirst and nausea.

Sweat among the sexes

Anyone can suffer from heat exhaustion, but men are at a much greater risk for two reasons: lifestyle and anatomy.

First, occupations dominated by males, such as being a soldier, a fireman or factory worker, have greater heat or sun exposure. Furthermore, men in general perform more strenuous activities than women. Even in athletics, men play more rigorous sports, such as football and extreme sports. This results in more sweating and more dehydration. Strenuous activity poses a greater risk than heat exposure.

Next, the male body is generally more prone to heat stroke. Men generally have a larger muscle mass, which generates more heat. Men have a smaller body-surface-to-mass ratio, which means there is less body surface from which body heat can escape. Also, it seems that women possess some hormonal factors that allow them to activate mechanisms that regulate body temperature much earlier and allow them to store less body heat. Early sweating is one of these mechanisms. Women sweat earlier, which means they don’t need to sweat a lot because body heat is released early. In contrast, by the time men sweat, a lot of body heat already needs to be released, so more sweat is needed to lower body temperatures.

Beat the heat

Don’t let this ruin your summer by making you stay away from the sun, surf, sand and speed. Instead of staying indoors, beat the heat. Here are tips to staying active during the summer months, from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM):

Quench the heat. This tip will always be at the top of any beat-the-heat list, because you will not get heat exhaustion without dehydration. The eight glasses of water a day that we have been told since childhood to consume are not enough during summer. For some people, this may mean drinking up to 16 glasses of water a day. If you are not sure if you are drinking enough, observe the color of your urine. It should be colorless or very light yellow. Once the urine turns bright yellow, you are already dehydrated and need to increase fluid intake.

Douse the fire. If symptoms of heat exhaustion set in, remember to do four things: 1) elevate the legs to prevent fainting; 2) drink lots of fluids; 3) rest; and 4) cool down the body by seeking shade, fan yourself, or stay in your car with the air conditioner on).

If you do not feel better or have a clearer head after several minutes, go to the emergency room. Lastly, after a bout of heat exhaustion, you should avoid any exercise for at least seven days after to let your body recuperate.

For more expert tips on avoiding dehydration, grab a copy of HealthToday’s pre-summer issue, out now in newsstands and bookstores.

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