Cold adaptation, aging, and Korean women divers haenyeo

Cited 10 time in Web of Science Cited 13 time in Scopus
Issue Date
BioMed Central
Journal of Physiological Anthropology, 36(1):33
HaenyeoAgingCold adaptationCotton bathing suitsWetsuitsCold toleranceHeat toleranceBreath-hold divingCross-adaptation
BAT: Brown adipose tissue; BMR: Basal metabolic rate; CIVD: Cold-induced vasodilation; NST: Non-shivering thermogenesis; Tsk: Skin temperature; Tre: Rectal temperature; Tmax: Maximum temperature; Tmean: Average temperature during immersion; Tmin: Minimum temperature; Trecovery: Temperature in recovery

We have been studying the thermoregulatory responses of Korean breath-hold women divers, called haenyeo, in terms of aging and cold adaptation. During the 1960s to the 1980s, haenyeos received attention from environmental physiologists due to their unique ability to endure cold water while wearing only a thin cotton bathing suit. However, their overall cold-adaptive traits have disappeared since they began to wear wetsuits and research has waned since the 1980s. For social and economic reasons, the number of haenyeos rapidly decreased to 4005 in 2015 from 14,143 in 1970 and the average age of haenyeos is about 75 years old at present.

For the past several years, we revisited and explored older haenyeos in terms of environmental physiology, beginning with questionnaire and field studies and later advancing to thermal tolerance tests in conjunction with cutaneous thermal threshold tests in a climate chamber. As control group counterparts, older non-diving females and young non-diving females were compared with older haenyeos in the controlled experiments.

Our findings were that older haenyeos still retain local cold tolerance on the extremities despite their aging. Finger cold tests supported more superior local cold tolerance for older haenyeos than for older non-diving females. However, thermal perception in cold reflected aging effects rather than local cold acclimatization. An interesting finding was the possibility of positive cross-adaptation which might be supported by greater heat tolerance and cutaneous warm perception thresholds of older haenyeos who adapted to cold water.

It was known that cold-adaptive traits of haenyeos disappeared, but we confirmed that cold-adaptive traits are still retained on the face and hands which could be interpreted by a mode switch to local adaptation from the overall adaptation to cold. Further studies on cross-adaptation between chronic cold stress and heat tolerance are needed.
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College of Human Ecology (생활과학대학)Dept. of Textiles, Merchandising and Fashion Design (의류학과)Journal Papers (저널논문_의류학과)
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