Exercising in the Heat: How to safely work out in hot conditions
By Nicole Flanagan
The dog days of summer are upon us, and with the warm weather and longer days we can all have a chance to get outdoors and enjoy some summer activities. Whether you are participating in sports or other physical activities during these hot months, it is important to keep in mind the potential risks that come with exercising in the heat. As long as you understand how to safely work out in the heat, there is no reason not to take advantage of what summer has to offer.
There are many factors that contribute to how our bodies adjust in the heat. Air temperature and humidity play a major role in the body’s ability to regulate itself. Let’s say you’re running in 80-degree heat and the humidity is low. Your body will be able to regulate temperature easily because the environment is cooler than your body temperature—which is typically 98.6 degrees. Up the humidity to 95 percent, and your shirt is sticking to your body because the sweat is no longer evaporating.
When the temperature outside exceeds our internal temperature, the body loses its only natural defense against overheating, which is the ability to sweat. The evaporation of sweat from the skin allows the body to cool down. However, when the humidity level is too high, there is less evaporation and therefore less cooling. This combination of high humidity and high temperature can be dangerous if a person is exposed for too long without proper hydration. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are two dangerous side effects that can happen when the body can no longer handle the heat.
Signs of heat exhaustion include general fatigue, weakness, nausea, dizziness, muscle cramps, and an increase in body temperature. A body temperature above 104, an inability to sweat, acute respiratory distress, and loss of consciousness can be signs of heat stroke, which is more severe and can lead to death if not treated immediately.
This does not mean that you should avoid going outside to have a great summer workout. Just be aware of the risks and take steps to prevent overheating and dehydration. Here are some tips for exercising in the heat. By following these guidelines, you will be able to safely exercise outdoors during the hot summer months:
-Keep hydrated! It is very important to drink plenty of fluids throughout the day. Once you start to feel thirsty you are already dehydrated. Try to stick to non-caffieinated beverages (preferably water) or some type of sports drink. To stay properly hydrated during exercise, drink at least one cup of water 15 minutes prior to the beginning of exercise, and a gulp or two every 15 minutes during the workout.
-Eat regularly. It is important to keep eating during the day. Try to get five small meals a day. For many people, the heat decreases appetite, but your body still needs the energy. Fruits and vegetables are great for energy and will also help with some hydration.
-Wear loose-fitting clothing. Try to find clothes that are light and breathable. The best type of clothing to wear is something that is designed to wick sweat away from the body.
-Wear sunscreen. Even if you are out early in the morning, if you are exposed to the sun, it can give you a burn. Sunburns can hinder the body’s ability to cool itself.
-Workout at times of the day that are cooler and stick to familiar activities. The best times to work out are in the early mornings before the sun has a chance to warm up, or in the late afternoon when it starts to cool down. Try to avoid exercising during the hottest parts of the day (usually between 10am and 4pm).
-Warming up before exercise and cooling down after is very important Give your body a chance to adjust to the outside temperature before beginning your activity. Five minutes of walking or a light jog is a good way to prepare you for a workout. When you are done with the workout be sure to cool down. An example of a cool down would be walking for five or ten minutes to allow your heart rate to return to normal. Avoid extreme temperature changes. Never go right from a hot sweaty workout into cold air conditioning.
Don’t forget that we’re living in a city—we don’t have the luxury of running on unpaved country roads—the majority of the trails we enjoy are paved—which radiate heat—greatly increasing the heat from the environment.