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18 April 2011 | PR 11/43

Sweat research at Loughborough University sparks evolution speculation

Sweat Research

Diagram 1: Body sweat patterns in male elite athletes (Reproduced with kind permission from Springer Science+Business Media: European Journal of Applied Physiology; Url: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00421-010-1744-8; Doi: 10.1007/s00421-010-1744-8; Copyright Springer)

Research at Loughborough University to find out where athletes sweat the most has revealed surprising results.

Scientists at the University’s Environmental Ergonomics Research Centre investigated sweating in male athletes in a research project sponsored by global sports company adidas.

Professor George Havenith and Dr Caroline Smith created a body map of sweating patterns using the University’s specialist facilities and a unique technique.

The results showed unexpectedly high levels of sweating on the central and lower back, particularly in the area of the spine.

High sweat rates were also found on the forehead whilst the lowest were towards the extremities, in the research published by the European Journal of Applied Physiology.

Academics were surprised by high levels of sweating along the spine. The back of the body is less exposed to airflow – wind speed due to running – and thus less efficient at cooling the body – the primary function of sweat. So, more sweat will drip off the body without cooling it.

Discussions with colleagues with expertise in evolutionary biology raised a speculative explanation.

Prof Havenith said: “Our research records scientific data but asking ‘why’ raises an interesting question.

“If this pattern that we observe is a remnant from when we moved on all fours, before we walked upright, then sweating on the back would make sense.

“The chest would be protected from air movement and enclosed by the extremities, while the back pointing upwards would be more exposed to wind.’’

The research was carried out using panels made from a super-absorbent fabric capable of holding liquid of up to 20 times its own weight.

Athletes based on the University campus took part in the tests, which were held in the Centre’s climatic chambers, an environment capable of producing temperatures ranging from minus 30 to +50 degrees C.

Athletes taking part in the study exercised in the laboratory while wearing the special panels.

The fabric sections were then removed and weighed to accurately measure the amount of sweat produced in the different areas of the body.

In research still to be published, the academics also mapped the sweating patterns of female athletes under the same conditions.

Global sportswear manufacturer adidas has used the body mapping research to further develop its range of stay-cool sports clothes, using mesh inserts, for example, in areas of high heat and sweat production.

Prof Havenith said: “Sponsors adidas are leading the way in this research which will be of great interest to all clothing manufacturers, as they strive to create clothes which keep us cool and comfortable.’’

−ENDS−

For all media enquiries contact:

Sarah Hall
Marketing and Communications Officer, Enterprise Office
Loughborough University
T: 01509 228684
E: S.Hall@lboro.ac.uk

Notes for editors:

  1. Recipients of this press release have permission to use the image in relation to this press release. Permission for further commercial usage should be sought from publishers Springer.

  2. Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

    It was awarded the coveted Sunday Times University of the Year 2008-09 title, and is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in national newspaper league tables. In the 2010 National Student Survey, Loughborough was voted one of the top universities in the UK, and has topped the Times Higher Education league for the UK’s Best Student Experience every year since the poll's inception in 2006. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, the University has been awarded six Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

    Loughborough is also the UK’s premier university for sport. It has perhaps the best integrated sports development environment in the world and is home to some of the country’s leading coaches, sports scientists and support staff. It also has the country’s largest concentration of world-class training facilities across a wide range of sports.

    It is a member of the 1994 Group of 19 leading research-intensive universities. The Group was established in 1994 to promote excellence in university research and teaching. Each member undertakes diverse and high-quality research, while ensuring excellent levels of teaching and student experience.

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