Over the years my face has got redder and redder when I exercise. Now I’m peri-menopausal, it’s getting even more beetroot! Ending up with a bright red face puts some people off running in the first place. It can make you feel very self conscious, especially if you’re dashing off to work or out in public soon afterwards. So why does your face go red when you exercise? Is there anything you can do to stop the facial flushing after you run? And why does the peri-menopause make you even redder?!

Why does your face go red after running?

Our bodies like to remain at a constant temperature for our bodily processes to operate smoothly. When our core temperature increases, which it does when we exercise, our body activates a number of systems to cool it down. These include, sweating and flushing of the skin. The body wants to bring as much blood as possible to the surface of the skin because the cooler external air will help to cool the blood and therefore reduce body temperature. To bring more blood to the surface, the tiny capillaries carrying blood, dilate and expand. This leads to a red flushing of the skin. The face has a rich blood supply and a big surface area so it’s an effective place to lose heat from.

A red face is a sign that our body is taking action and operating effectively to get rid of excess heat. This means you can be super fit and still be bright red so we shouldn’t think of redness as a marker of fitness.

Why do women seem to go redder in the face than men?

Generally, red faces are more common in women than men. They’re also more noticeable if you have fair skin. Men generally sweat more so lose the bulk of excess heat this way. During the peri-menopause, hot flushes are common, whether you’re exercising or not and women who are used to exercise often find they get redder in the face than they used to. The hypothalamus in the brain controls our body temperature – it’s our thermostat. When oestrogen levels reduce during the peri-menopause, the thermostat becomes more sensitive. A slight change in temperature can trigger it to start up the cooling systems. It’s trying to help us!

How can I stop my face going red when I run?

The cooling systems are activated by our autonomic nervous system – this is automatic and we don’t have control over it. We can’t stop the redness but there is some good news. Women who regularly do vigorous activity (and running counts as this) have less severe flushing and sweats than women who are sedentary. There are also studies that show that increasing your fitness level can reduce the severity and intensity of flushes. So, while this might not solve our running redness we can feel confident that our running isn’t making things worse and might be reducing our chances of flushing at other times.

Things you can try really involve keeping as cool as you can:

  • Avoid running during the hottest times of day
  • Run when there’s breeze
  • Pre-cool before you run – drink an iced drink
  • Spray your face with water to keep it cool
  • Keep your body as cool as possible with light, breathable fabrics
  • Keep hydrated when you run
  • Keep your face out of the sun with a cap or visor.

Why a red face could be a good thing

Increased blood flow to any area of the body can be a positive. Blood brings good things such as oxygen, healing cells and nutrition and it takes away toxins too. That might not be enough to make you jump for joy at your tomato face in the mirror. Remember though, red faces are a sign that your body is effectively removing heat and helping you to keep running. Turn embarrassment into pride if you can, you’ve worked out, you’ve taken positive steps for your health. Who care what others think? They’re most likely feeling bad they haven’t done any exercise and cheering you on rather than judging you. A red face is worth it for a healthier future. We can do this! Share your red faced selfie with me on social media – here’s a starter from me …

Like this post? You’ll love my book Run Well: Essential health questions and answers for runners. Published by Bloomsbury and available to buy now. 

Featured image by LoggaWiggler from Pixabay

Other images: drjulietmcgrattan.com

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