CALL ME A party-pooper, but I'm glad summer is fading. I like sunshine as much as the next guy. It's the heat I can't take...

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CALL ME A party-pooper, but I’m glad summer is fading. I like sunshine as much as the next guy. It’s the heat I can’t take.

In fact, the most predictable thing about my most unpredictable disease, multiple sclerosis, is the way heat wilts my energy and worsens the short-circuiting in my central nervous system. The effects are so pronounced that people with MS and soldiers who must wage war in extreme heat are key test subjects in active cooling technologies making inroads into athletic performance and injury rehabilitation.

I participated in a study on MS and exercise, led by Dr. George Kraft, director of the Multiple Sclerosis Rehabilitation Research and Training Center at the University of Washington, and administered by research scientist Al Alquist. I started with baseline physical and cognitive testing. Then, for 30 minutes three times a week, I wore a hooded cooling vest that lowered my body temperature. I ended each session by lifting light weights. I came to relish that soothing vest.

When the baseline tests were repeated at the end of the study, my endurance, strength and cognitive scores all soared. So has the presence of “active” cooling technology in sports.

While the mechanism of heat intolerance and relief in MS is not well understood, it is fairly simple in people who exercise. Working muscles consume energy and generate heat. And ambient heat, like what football players had to endure during this month’s training camps, saps strength and endurance. In some cases, it can lead to heat exhaustion or stroke.

A few years ago, the Oregon Ducks football team caused a ruckus when they traveled to a game in Mississippi with cooling vests furnished by Nike. Kraft and Alquist used one to “pre-cool” an elite cyclist with MS and found encouraging results. The vest I used was from a California company, Game Ready, which adapted technology from NASA spacesuits. The company also markets cooling-and-compression units that are making inroads into athletic and rehab settings.

Carry on, with water



Drinking water is part of staying cool, especially in the heat. Drinking during exercise is important, so carrying or wearing a water bottle has become the norm.

Manufacturers are churning out all kinds of portable vessels. One of the latest is the Ginger water bottle from Seattle-based MiGo. The 24-ounce, wide-mouth bottle features a warbled body and a handy looped cap that helps anchor it to a workout bag. The $8 bottle is made of a hard plastic, which the manufacturer says won’t leave “funky odors.”

Gabriel Griego of Game Ready says the units are being used by more than 1,000 physical-therapy clinics, 70 pro teams — including the Seahawks — and 130 universities. More than 350 professional athletes have bought systems. The company also provides vests to surgeons who get overheated during long procedures.

Another device, called CoreControl, is generating considerable interest. The technology behind it was created by two Stanford biologists. Michigan-based AVAcore Technologies markets the device, which aims to cool from inside out. Users include both collegiate and Olympic athletes as well as soldiers and firefighters. The device germinated in a lab once devoted to studying hibernating squirrels and marmots. It found the first athletic application on helping weightlifters train, recover and improve.

The idea is to maximize heat transfer through the palms of the hands by drawing blood there to envelop arteries and veins. Palms, soles of the feet and non-hairy parts of the face have structures specifically designed for heat dissipation. The technology enhances these natural “radiators” by applying a small negative pressure to pull blood into the hand as precisely controlled cool water is circulated through a cylinder that the subject holds onto.

I tried the device a bit this summer. I stuffed ice cubes and cold water into a tall, insulated bottle that was connected by tubing to the toaster-sized unit. I stuck my hand inside and grabbed a cool cylinder about the size of a pop can, then closed the opening around my upper wrist to create an airtight environment. I turned on the motor and sat for about 10 minutes at a time. The results were subtler than the ice vests, but I found considerable relief.

These devices cost a few thousand dollars, but they advance our understanding of the effects of cooling, and each year, more and affordable products, from cooling bandanas to ice armbands, hit the market.

Richard Seven is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff writer. He can be reached at rseven@seattletimes.com.