BACKGROUND: Physiological heat adaptations can be induced following various protocols that use either artificially controlled (i.e. acclimation) or naturally occurring (i.e. acclimatisation) environments. During the summer months in seasonal climates, adequate exposure to outdoor environmental heat stress should lead to transient seasonal heat acclimatisation.
OBJECTIVES: The aim of the systematic review was to assess the available literature and characterise seasonal heat acclimatisation during the summer months and identify key factors that influence the magnitude of adaptation.
ELIGIBILITY CRITERIA: English language, full-text articles that assessed seasonal heat acclimatisation on the same sample of healthy adults a minimum of 3 months apart were included.
DATA SOURCES: Studies were identified using first- and second-order search terms in the databases MEDLINE, SPORTDiscus, CINAHL Plus with Full Text, Scopus and Cochrane, with the last search taking place on 15 July 2021.
RISK OF BIAS: Studies were independently assessed by two authors for the risk of bias using a modified version of the McMaster critical review form.
DATA EXTRACTION: Data for the following outcome variables were extracted: participant age, sex, body mass, height, body fat percentage, maximal oxygen uptake, time spent exercising outdoors (i.e. intensity, duration, environmental conditions), heat response test (i.e. protocol, time between tests), core temperature, skin temperature, heart rate, whole-body sweat loss, whole-body and local sweat rate, sweat sodium concentration, skin blood flow and plasma volume changes.
RESULTS: Twenty-nine studies were included in this systematic review, including 561 participants across eight countries with a mean summer daytime wet-bulb globe temperature (WBGT) of 24.9 °C (range: 19.5-29.8 °C). Two studies reported a reduction in resting core temperature (0.16 °C; p < 0.05), 11 reported an increased sweat rate (range: 0.03-0.53 L·h-1; p < 0.05), two observed a reduced heart rate during a heat response test (range: 3-8 beats·min-1; p < 0.05), and six noted a reduced sweat sodium concentration (range: - 22 to - 59%; p < 0.05) following summer. The adaptations were associated with a mean summer WBGT of 25.2 °C (range: 19.6-28.7 °C).
LIMITATIONS: The available studies primarily focussed on healthy male adults and demonstrated large differences in the reporting of factors that influence the development of seasonal heat acclimatisation, namely, exposure time and duration, exercise task and environmental conditions.
CONCLUSIONS: Seasonal heat acclimatisation is induced across various climates in healthy adults. The magnitude of adaptation is dependent on a combination of environmental and physical activity characteristics. Providing environmental conditions are conducive to adaptation, the duration and intensity of outdoor physical activity, along with the timing of exposures, can influence seasonal heat acclimatisation. Future research should ensure the documentation of these factors to allow for a better characterisation of seasonal heat acclimatisation.
PROSPERO REGISTRATION: CRD42020201883.