Spare me the humidity; time for action

As part of my renewed exploration this year into physical activity, I’ve been keeping an eye out for anything substantial that might be useful and thought provoking.  I’m even looking for the just plain silly that would prompt a giggle.

Today, I found an article about the controversy of the Australian Tennis Open’s extreme heat policy:  Daisy Dumas’ “Players struggle as debate rages about how hot is too hot”.

What I learnt

When I put on weight, all those years ago, the skin stretched.  Apparently, no new sweat glands are created to help cool that extra surface area.  So, next time you look across at the effortlessness of the skinny one and feel green shades of envy colour your sweaty cheeks, remind yourself that it has nothing to do with character or personality.  She (he) just has more sweat glands per square inch of body surface.

Sweat is our evaporative cooling system.

But sweat is just one piece of the puzzle.  Its productivity hinges on at least two things: the type of movement and the level of humidity.

Some exercise can be too static, resulting in insufficient airflow to evaporate the sweat.  A training bike or treadmill are two examples.  If it’s too hot or if you’re aiming for an endurance season on the bike, turn on a fan to keep the air circulating.

While the idea of static exercise was new to me, the problem of humidity was not.

Dumas’ article provided a comparison that was very illuminating:  42 degrees Celsius at 15 per cent humidity feels like 34 degrees at 40 per cent.

To put it another way, as the humidity rises the thermometer starts lying to us.  “It’s only 34 degrees” it declares and brands us wimps for daring to complain.

Dry heat isn’t honest either, hiding its real temperature from us, but when 42 feels like 34 we can feel tough and strong in the face of its glare.

And then there’s the tangent

Dumas’ article mentioned the culture of being tough, of toughing it out, and the dangers of overriding the body’s protective processes.  The combination of the two words – “culture” and “humidity” – sent me down a tangent into the cultural clashes we often experience around Australia Day.

Learning how to be active in a very humid country, or even in Queensland for that matter, is very different than in most of Australia.  Having learnt particular behavioural and social mechanisms for coping daily with high humidity, how difficult it must be to relocate to a dry climate?  And visa vesa?

The word “acclimatise” implies “getting comfortable with a different climate”.  I hadn’t associated it with completely re-learning how to live and work.

For some, perhaps it’s not so hard.  Is this why so many from the southern parts of Australia head north for holidays and retirements … they now think they have an excuse for indulging in inactivity?  Or have they learnt to associate the humidity of the north with the idea of a well-earned rest?

The memorable catchphrase

To end this post, I’d like to pass on one of the article’s memorable quotes.  Ben Williams is a marathon runner who is quoted as saying “It’s uncomfortable, but not undoable”.

My take-away from the Australian Open extreme heat policy debate is captured by that quote.  It would be easier for tennis players, or any sports professionals, if every game was played in the same climactic conditions, regardless of country or time of day.  By ensuring there is some variability, the game also tests which of these elites can strategically and successfully adjust.

My take-away is to work out where the border is between the uncomfortable and the undoable, then get stuck into achieving the doable no matter how uncomfortable.


What I don’t understand is why the spectators pay to sit there all day in the stinking hot sun?  Now that’s an example of culture overriding the body’s protective processes!



Dumas, D. 2014.  “Players struggle as debate rages about how hot is too hot”, Canberra Times, 18 January.  Online at




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