Hitting a Flat Note: Why High Temperatures Are a Threat to Marching Bands

Playing in a high school or college marching band is something that quite a few young people enjoy. However, this activity is not without risks. Believe or not, research indicates that marching band members may face an elevated threat of heat stroke.

Getting Data

This study was led by Dawn Emerson, an assistant professor of health, sport and exercise sciences at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. To gauge the impact of hot weather on outdoor musicians, Lawrence and her team documented the body temperatures from two different college marching bands. The participants’ temperatures were not only recorded during football games, but rehearsals as well.

The method in which this information was recorded is rather noteworthy; each subject was required to swallow a sensor-filled capsule, allowing the researchers to track their body’s temperature. The identities of both marching bands remained anonymous.

Number Crunching

The threshold for heat stroke is a core body temperature of 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat stroke is more common than you may think – in fact; it is one of the leading causes of death among US high school athletes. It should also be noted that Heat stroke is the most severe form of exertional heat illness (EHI), exceeding both heat cramps and heat exhaustion in overall intensity.

At the end of the study, the authors compared data from the two bands, appropriately named Band 1 and Band 2. The team noticed that the core temperatures of Band 2 exceeded those of Band 1. Perhaps most alarmingly, seven members of the second band experienced core body temperatures that surpassed the 104 degree threshold for heat stroke. One musician from Band 2 even developed central nervous system dysfunction, a warning sign that exertional heat stroke may be imminent.

On average, the core body temperature for Band 2 clocked in at 101.1 degrees Fahrenheit, whereas Band 1’s temperatures were documented 99.7 degrees. Even after physical activity, this gap remained intact (101.8 to 100.2 degrees).

So what explained the differences between the two bands? The study authors offered a few potential explanations:

  • Band 2’s practices lasted for 116 minutes on average, compared to only 87.5 minutes for Band 1.
  • Band 2 began their practices at 3:45 p.m. Conversely, Band 1 started their practices an hour and fifteen minutes later, when temperatures usually weren’t as high.
  • Band 2 practiced three days each week, leading to longer overall practices. In contrast, Band 1 opted for shorter practices stretched over four days.
  • Band 2 performed on artificial turf, a surface which has been shown to cause more stress on the body. The practices and in-game performances for Band 1 all took place on natural grass.

In light of the study’s findings, Emerson urged high schools and colleges to take a more proactive role in keeping their marching bands from overheating. “People usually think of football players when they think of students struggling with heat issues, but high school and college marching bands also often practice in the heat of August and early September, and play on the same surfaces while wearing uniforms and carrying heavy equipment,” stated Dawson. “Schools should use the same recommendations to prevent EHI for marching bands as they use for athletes, such as holding shorter practices the first week so musicians can acclimate to the heat, moving practice times to earlier in the morning or later in the day when heat and humidity are lowest, and ensuring the musicians have rest breaks and access to water.”

Related Stories

Parkinson’s Disease is one of the most devastating progressive diseases in existence. Those living with this condition can expect …