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Exercise has become extremely popular and sports clothes manufacturers have been quick to respond to consumer demand. Each sport has its own specific clothing requirements, but the most important consideration for the general exerciser is that clothes are comfortable, that they allow the body to breathe normally, and that they stretch to allow maximum freedom of movement. There is no need to buy expensive designer sports clothes, some of which are more suited to the poser than the exerciser. Loose-fitting cotton T-shirts, high-cut elasticated shorts, and one-piece leotards with tights which fit snugly over the legs are popular and fulfil the basic requirements. It is also important to wear a tracksuit or shell suit at the start and end of an exercise session to prevent chills. If the temperature is very low, the best way to keep warm is by wearing two or more layers of clothes. The inner layer should allow sweat to escape so that you will not get wet. The outer layer should be wind-resistant, waterproof, and ideally should also let sweat escape. Up to 40 per cent of body heat can be lost through the head, so you should wear a hat in cold weather. You should not overdress or you might overheat during exercise. It is a good idea to wear an outer layer which can be zipped open for quick cooling off.
Gloves are a very useful accessory for several sports. Weight-lifters use fingerless gloves to improve grip and to prevent blisters forming; cyclists use padded gloves to reduce the risk of injuring the delicate structures in the palm of the hand when gripping handlebars for long periods; and runners often put on thin woollen gloves to keep their hands warm in cold weather.
Probably the most important parts of the body to clothe properly are the feet. Padded socks made from cotton or a cotton-wool mixture absorb sweat and help protect the feet from blisters and other injuries. A wide range of footwear is available, but it is important to obtain shoes specifically designed for your activity and which suit your own requirements (see training shoes).
Those exercising as part of a weight reduction programme should avoid rubberized or plastic suits as they prevent heat loss and can be very dangerous. Despite claims to the contrary, these suits do not accelerate fat loss. See also clo unit.