The Medicine Cabinet Find That Will Help Your Body Feel Cool During A Hot Summer Workout

The summer months make early morning workouts a little more doable because you have early morning daylight to guide your running, walking, or cycling path. If you're an evening exerciser, you'll have those extra hours of daylight after work. The only problem with summer workouts is the summer heat. You either have to get up extra early or work out later when summer temps really start scorching.

You can buy so many hydration packs, belts, and bottles to keep you cool when it's hot out. Cooling sleeves might be great to protect you from UV rays and help cool your arms. You can stash ice packs along your route to stuff behind your neck and along your chest. Another cooling product you can store in your summer workout arsenal might already be in your medicine cabinet for your winter colds: Vicks VapoRub. If you think it sounds crazy to rub a cold remedy on your chest in the summer, research shows menthol can make you feel cooler during summer workouts.

How Vicks VapoRub works

The menthol in Vicks VapoRub activates temperature and pain receptors while also opening up blood vessels. When used on the skin, it stimulates these cold-sensitive receptors, making us feel that cooling sensation, according to a 2018 review in the Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics.

Unlike drinking cold water or stuffing ice packs behind your neck, menthol doesn't actually cool down your body. Instead, it gives you the perception that you're cooler. A 2023 study in the European Journal of Applied Physiology asked 12 people to walk at a 5% grade outside for 30 minutes in 100-degree temperatures. They applied a menthol solution (or control solution) to their arms or legs to see differences in levels of sweat and temperature. Even though the menthol caused people's core temperature to rise, they said they felt cooler. The areas treated with menthol also saw less sweating. In other words, menthol might compromise the body's ability to cool itself, even if it feels like it's cooler.

Menthol might make exercising in the heat feel easier

If you apply Vicks VapoRub to your legs before a hard run in the hot summer temperatures, you might find the run to be not only cooler, but also a little less painful. Menthol also has some pain-relieving qualities. According to a 2023 study in the European Journal of Sports Science, people who applied menthol before exercising in the heat had lower perceived exertion and said they felt less pain than the people in two other conditions.

When you exercise in hot weather, your body releases the stress hormone prolactin. If your body feels cooler with menthol, it becomes more capable of enduring the stress of exercising in the heat, according to a 2022 systematic review in Frontiers in Nutrition. Even if you don't apply menthol before your workout, applying it after your workout can have the same cooling effects. A 2015 study in Extreme Physiology and Medicine found that applying menthol cream to your body post-exercise might make you feel cooler for up to 30 minutes.

It's important to note that menthol can give you a false sense of cooling even though your body temperature is heating up, according to a 2018 article in Current Sports Medicine Reports. Therefore, if you use menthol to help keep you cool during a summer workout, be on the lookout for signs of heat exhaustion, such as headache, thirst, nausea, or dizziness (via Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).