How Exercising in the Heat Affects Women on Birth Control

women with hands on her knees bent over

By Alyssa Bialowas

Exercising in hot conditions is commonplace for both recreational and competitive athletes, and training can be more uncomfortable for women during various times of the month. Training in hot climates while menstruating can add pain to this uncomfortable state, and studies have looked more closely at how heat and exercise effect the immune response of women menstruating. Exercising in the heat stimulates the production of the stress hormone cortisol, which can lead to immune disturbances that contribute to the pathology of heat stroke, effecting an athletes ability to train and compete.

The ingestion of oral contraceptives impacts the body’s hormonal balance, and relatively little research has investigated how oral contraceptives effect immune function during exercise. It has been demonstrated that oral contraceptives improve inflammatory status in untrained women and stated that this greater anti-inflammatory environment is likely related to the lower concentration of endogenous estrogen when compared to normally-menstruating women.

A research team from Queensland, Australia investigated the immunoendocrine response to exercise in the heat in women taking oral contraceptives compared to normally-menstruating women.

Related Article: Do Women’s Menstrual Cycles Affect Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage

They investigated – 

  • The study included nine women taking oral contraceptives, and nine women normally menstruating who do not use oral contraceptives. Their immune and stress responses were studied in temperate conditions and hot conditions.
  • All participants performed a cycling trial in three stages at varying degrees of intensity in both conditions. 
  • C-reactive protein (a biomarker of inflammation and tissue damage) and immune cell counts were measured at rest between the conditions, and salivary cortisol was evaluated before and after exercise in both conditions.

What they found?

  • Resting c-reactive protein was three times higher in women taking the oral contraceptives. 
  • There were no differences stress cortisol, or in resting immune cell counts between the two groups.

In conclusion, women using oral contraceptives exhibit similar immune function to naturally menstruating women while exercising in temperate and hot conditions. The increased levels in c-reactive protein in women taking oral contraceptives could be indicative of inflammation, however, whether this effects performance is unclear. Further studies should investigate if this level of increased inflammation induced from taking oral contraceptives influences women’s athletic performance.

Related Article: Can Head Cooling Increase Aerobic Performance in the Heat?

You Might Like:

female soccer player

Protocol for Breast Injuries in Female Athletes

The popularity of female sport has been increased at an incredible pace over the last decade. As a result, we have seen increases in funding, the uptake of better-quality coaches, and the introduction of high-level...
woman running stairs

5 Ways HIIT Improves Fitness in Women

Alyssa Bialowas Research poll after research poll, male and female adults express that one of the biggest barriers they face to frequent exercise is lack of time. One common assumption is that exercise and physical...
athlete lifting weights

Strength Training in Older Women Wards Off Aging

Evan Stevens At Forever Fit Science we have long discussed the importance of adding strength training to your exercise routine. Resistance training has consistently proven to be integral to all facets of health, from brain...


Cox, A., Fisher, R., Larsen, B., Minahan, C., & Quinn, K. (2018). “Immune Response in Women during

Exercise in the Heat: A Spotlight on Oral Contraception.” Journal of Sport Science and Medicine,

17, 229-236.

Female hurdler

Does Testosterone Boost Athletic Performance in Female Athletes? 

female soccer player

Protocol for Breast Injuries in Female Athletes

Young female slalom skier during the race

Are ACL tears more common during a women’s menstrual cycle?

Women wearing yellow stretching in a field

How Does the Menstrual Cycle Impact Physical Performance?

ab roller

How Core Strength Effects Athletic Performance

Weight Training Techniques: Benefits of Unilateral Training

Weight Training Techniques: The Benefits of Unilateral Training

Improve Aerobic Capacity: Tips and Tricks

How to Improve Your Aerobic Capacity – Tips & Tricks

Exercising in the Heat

Exercising in the Heat

Glute Exercise

The Best Glute Exercises: How to fire your glutes!

Probiotics and Prebiotics

What Are Probiotics and Prebiotics?

Leave a Reply