The human body is a complex machine. A large part of its functions are not fully understood, but they do exist. They include: movement, balance, temperature regulation (thermoregulation), blood flow, respiration and digestion. These functions are all regulated by the autonomic nervous system (ANS). ANS regulates these functions through various systems within your body. One such system is called the thermoregulatory or heat response system (HRRS). The HRRS controls how much energy you expend when exposed to cold temperatures. This system responds to changes in the environment, which includes temperature and environmental conditions.
Your body’s ability to regulate temperature is controlled by several hormones and other substances that affect your metabolism, blood pressure, heart rate and many other physiological processes. Your body maintains a certain internal temperature range known as homeostasis. When you are at homeostasis, your body functions normally. However, if you are outside of this range, then your body will attempt to maintain homeostasis by reducing activity and increasing rest.
If you go too long without any stimulus, then your body may become hyperthermic (overheated) and suffer from hypothermia (lowered core temperature).
The central region of your brain, called the hypothalamus, is connected to the HRRS by nerves in your spine. These nerves contain what is called the “thermoregulatory center.” When signals reach this center from your senses or other parts of your brain, they are interpreted and an automatic response is triggered. This response can be changes in your heart rate, skin blood flow, metabolism, as well as other processes.
These processes can be divided into two sections, those that increase heat (called thermogenesis) and those that decrease heat (called thermoregulation).
HRRS is made of two different areas. One part is called the brown adipose tissue (BAT) or also known as “good fat”. The other part is the skeletal muscle tissue (SMM). When you are exposed to cold, your brain activates the BAT.
This part converts calories into heat and keeps your body warm. When you are exposed to heat, your brain activates the SMM. This part of your body covers most of your body and through muscular movement, pushes more blood towards the skin’s surface, where it can be cooled by the environment. This process is called shunting (thermochromic).
The purpose of training is to increase your ability to cope with cold and hot temperatures.
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