Red Faced!

No, no, not with embarrassment! When I was a child and then into my teens I was quite active in sports. I used to run track (the middle distance events like 800-1500 m, or the long distance like 3,000 m or more), and I also ran in cross country events. I used to play Volleyball at school and on an Ontario competitive team. I noticed and other people noticed that I got quite red faced when participating in those sports, or even just exercising for fun. People used to ask if I was ok, I always was!

Being the researcher type that I’ve always been, I went looking for information on why that happened and whether is was a good or bad thing when it came to my health. I remember reading an article many years ago that said the red face meant your blood vessels were wide open and your body had a greater than normal cooling system. Now that’s just my own words from what I remember from that article many years ago, but recently when my best friend (here in Vancouver) and I went for a 10 km walk on a very hot Sunday afternoon the topic came up again. I told her what I had read in the past about it, then when I got home I went looking for that info again, and I’m going to share what I found with all of you here in my blog. 🙂

Getting a red face during exercise is as normal as sweating for some people. In most cases, a red face following exercise is perfectly normal and no cause for concern. It is more prevalent in people with fair skin and is just part of your genetic make-up. I am definitely fair skinned!

Your heart rate increases as your heart works harder to increase the blood flow to the muscles that you are working. So that your cardiovascular system can work harder, small blood vessels and capillaries widen to deliver the oxygen to the muscles and remove waste products. This widening is called vasodilation and makes your face redden as more blood is being carried by the capillaries beneath your skin.

Heat Dissipation Through Vasodilation

As you exercise and work your muscles, your body temperature increases. The dilated blood vessels carry an increased blood flow to your skin where it transfers heat to your surroundings to prevent you from overheating. You also sweat to cool down. Both of these factors can lead to a red face, and you can expect your face to get redder when exercising in hot weather than in cool weather. Our faces were certainly very red on that day as it was about 28*C (about 82*F), and we were in full sun for 99.5% of that walk. We did have water with us, and there were drinking fountains in several spots along the way too. We made sure to take advantage of them all.

Just as a warning though, please be very aware if a flushed face is also combined with dizziness, nausea or fatigue, it could be due to other reasons and you should stop exercising immediately. If it is accompanied by a dry mouth, thirst and dizziness, it can be a sign of dehydration. This can lead to hyperthermia or heatstroke which is a serious medical problem. Symptoms of hyperthermia can include a red face; dizziness; nausea; fast, shallow breathing; vomiting; and a fast heart rate. If your red face is accompanied by these symptoms or by light-headedness, heart palpitations or difficulty breathing, then you should see a medical professional immediately. 

Toning Down the Red

While you are unlikely to stop your face from getting red when you exercise, there are preventative measures you can take to minimize the redness. Drink plenty of water to keep yourself hydrated and exercise in a cool environment. If you exercise outdoors, avoid the middle of the day and early afternoon during the summer months, as keeping your body temperature low can minimize the redness. Wear loose-fitting clothing and reduce the intensity of the workout to reduce redness. I feel no desire to minimize the redness just for the sake of not looking so red, but I do desire to take care of myself, my body when I’m exercising. I always have water with me, I always wear sunglasses and now I’m starting to wear a loose thin cotton baseball cap to shield my eyes even more (I’m finding my eyes are getting more sensitive to the sun then before, hmm – a topic for another blog?). Sunscreen is also important and I know I’m not as vigilant about that as I should be, so there’s another topic for a blog. 🙂

Take care of yourself and enjoy the sun. I know I’m going to get out there again today!


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