Concepts of Lifetime Fitness

September 1, 1997

Homeostasis is the state of equilibrium in which the internal environment of the human body

remains relatively constant. Two excellent examples of homeostasis are how the body maintains a constant

temperature and blood pressure during strenuous physical activity or exercise. Although there are many

other activities in the body that display homeostasis, I will only discuss these two.

Temperature in the human body is usually kept at approximately 37 degrees Celsius. To maintain

such a strict temperature, the body has a few functions to combat the outside elements. People cannot

make themselves cold as readily as make themselves hot, however I will mention both homeostasis

functions. When the external temperature decreases, a portion of the brain called the hypothalamus detects

the drop by means of the blood. To compensate, the brain sends chemical and electrical impulses to the

muscles. These impulses tell the muscles to begin to contract and relax at very high intervals. This is

commonly known as shivering. The production of Adenosine Triphosphate or ATP in the mitochondria of

the muscles produces heat. If the body temperature does not rise immediately after this, then a second

function begins. The brain will signal the blood vessels near the skin to constrict or narrow in diameter.

This occurs so the heat deep in the muscles is conserved. Sinc!

e the vessels are now smaller in diameter, less blood is needed to fill them. Since less blood is needed

through the vessels, the heart begins to slow. If the body remains in this slowed state, hypothermia could

result. Hypothermia is the condition in which metabolic processes are inhibited. The medical world has

taken advantage of this by inducing hypothermia in patients that are undergoing organ transplants.

To fight temperatures higher than normal, as in exercise or on hot days, the body reacts in the

opposite way than with cold. Again, the hypothalamus detects the change of temperature in the blood. The

brain signals blood vessels not to constrict, but to dilate. This increases the diameter of the vessels, and

results in the need for more blood. Since more blood is needed to fill the vessels, the heart pumps faster

and that causes respiration to increase. The increased respiration will make the body exhale some of the

internal heat, like placing a fan in a window to cool a room. The blood vessels are dilated so the heat deep

in the muscles is easily released. Another commonly known mechanism to fight heat is sweating. Sweat

glands found throughout the body are stimulated by the hypothalamus to excrete sweat and when the sweat

evaporates, the skin is cooled. If the body is not cooled by the time all of the internal water supply is used,

it could go into hypothermia. Th!

is is when the body becomes dehydrated and proteins begin to denature. Hypothermia can result in certain

death if the water supply is not immediately replenished. Some advantages to these mechanisms are the

cleansing effect of sweating and weight loss. Sweat, when excreted, removes waste materials such as

bacteria and water. Fat material, during exercise, is actually "eaten" by the body thus reducing overall


The second example of homeostasis is blood pressure regulation. When the hydrostatic pressure

of blood is above normal, pressure sensors in the blood vessels tell the brain through chemical means. The

brain will then stimulate the heart to contract or beat in slower intervals. This will cause less blood to enter

the blood vessels and that will lower the hydrostatic pressure. If the pressure is lower than normal, the

exact opposite happens. The sensors in the vessels tell the brain and the brain will then make the heart beat

faster so more blood enters the vessels and the pressure is raised.

The body uses many mechanisms to regulate temperature and blood pressure. Be it stimuli to the

heart from the brain or messages from the blood, the body maintains its internal environment through a

process called homeostasis.