Keeping Your Cool During Exercise

Written by Luke Belval, PhD and Craig Crandall, PhD on December 07, 2020

Optimal Burn Care
Active Living

Have you ever been told to be careful when exercising because of your burn injuries? Do you avoid outdoor activities because you are worried about overheating?

Researchers at the Thermal and Vascular Physiology Laboratory in the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine have been researching how burn survivors can safely exercise, especially when it is hot outside.

Phoenix members can help advance this research by participating in these studies; doing so will not only help you better understand how your body reacts to exercise, it will also help fellow burn survivors.

Read on for the latest information coming out of this laboratory, and for more on how you can become involved.

Exercising with Burn Injuries

Both burn injuries and skin grafting can cause damage to sweat glands, the tiny parts of your skin that produce sweat to keep you cool. This means that burn survivors have more trouble keeping themselves cool, especially in hot and humid environments.

Dr. Craig Crandall, the director of the lab, has made it a personal mission to better understand how this impacts burn survivors’ health and safety.

Improving Burn Survivors’ Fitness

Due to a variety of reasons, including concerns about overheating during exercise, burn survivors often have lower physical fitness. This leaves such individuals vulnerable to chronic health conditions like heart disease and diabetes.

With work funded by the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Crandall’s team researched how well burn survivors respond over the course of 6 months of strenuous exercise training. Burn survivors were brought into the lab to test how their muscles, heart, and lungs responded to exercise. They then repeated those tests six months after they were coached through an exercise program.

The results showed that burn survivors can benefit from physical activity, regardless of the extent of their injuries.

Burn Survivors in the Military

More recently, the lab has focused on evaluating the medical requirements for burn survivors serving in the United States military. Currently, individuals with burns on 18% or more of their body are excluded from serving or continuing to serve in the military. This is problematic, as the US military has nearly three times more severe burn injuries than a civilian population. Thus, even though there are limited scientific data to support exclusion, a severe burn injury could mean that a soldier can no longer serve.

The US Army funded the lab to study what causes a burn survivor to heat up during exercise, testing factors like level of difficulty or the location of burn injuries on the body. This research will help the Army craft guidelines that more accurately reflect the capabilities of burn survivors.

For example, this research found that a torso burn injury was no more detrimental to body temperature regulation than torso body armor on a non-burned soldier.

Keeping Cool

Now that researchers better understand how burn surviors respond to exercise, as well as the factors that cause survivors to heat up faster than those without burn injuries, the logical next question is:

What can we do about it?

With progressively more severe heat waves, it is increasingly difficult to find safe times or places to exercise, particularly in the summer months.

In partnership with Phoenix Society, the laboratory was recently awarded a grant by the National Institutes of Health to look at ways that burn survivors can keep cool during physical activity. Specifically, they are looking at approaches like spraying water or pointing a fan at survivors during physical activity.

This project will also develop a smart phone application. The app will inform a burn survivor how safe it is to participate in physical activity based on weather and the activity’s intensity.

How You Can Help

The lab is currently enrolling participants for their latest studies, which include 5 days of testing in Dallas. During this time, participants perform 60 minutes of treadmill walking in a heated room once per day for four days. On each day, a different cooling modality will be assessed.

The funding pays for travel expenses, hotel and related costs, and an hourly rate for the participant’s time while in the laboratory. There are some requirements and restrictions for participation. For more information, please contact or leave a message at 214-345-4737 .

This study has been approved by the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center Institutional Review Board, STU-2020-0334.