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10 Tips for Exercising Safely in the Heat of Summer

By Debbie Friend, MSc
July 19, 2013
File under: Fitness, Health Concerns

It’s summer! Take advantage of longer days, warm weather and the myriad of summer activities available this time of year. However heat and humidity can put an extra strain on the body and lead to heat-related illness.

Follow these guidelines:

Check the heat index. This is not the actual temperature. The heat index is the combination of the air temperature and the humidity level and an indication of how it actually feels.

Exercise indoors. If the heat index is 90° or above use extreme caution and consider exercising indoors.  When the air is that hot and humid, it is important to reduce the intensity of your workout and slow your pace.

Pay attention to heat advisories. When a heat advisory is issued, it means that the air pollution and ozone levels are high. Airborne pollutants can damage the lungs, so in the event of a heat advisory, it would probably be better to exercise inside.

Use caution in dry heat.  In this environment, sweat evaporates so quickly that you may not realize how much fluid you are losing. It is very important to stay hydrated in order to avoid heat-related illnesses. Drink fluids before, during and after exercise activity.

Drink plenty of water. When you sweat, you are losing bodily fluids. Counter this by drinking plenty of water.  For activities that last longer than one hour or are of high intensity, a sports drink might be a better option.

Avoid alcoholic and caffeinated beverages. Sports drinks can replace the sodium, chloride and potassium that are lost through sweating, whereas alcoholic and caffeinated beverages are dehydrating.

Dress appropriately. Wear lightweight, tightly woven, loose fitting and light colored clothing, which helps keep you cool. Avoid dark colored clothing, which can absorb heat.

Use sunscreen and wear sunglasses. Protect yourself. Sunburn is not only painful; it can also decrease your body’s ability to cool itself down.

Avoid activity during peak heat hours. The hottest time of day is usually midday. If at all possible, schedule your outdoor activities for early morning or early evening when it is likely to be cooler.

Know your medications. Prescription and over-the counter drugs such as decongestants, antihistamines, anti-depressants, diuretics and appetite suppressants can promote dehydration. If you are taking any medications, it is important to check with your health care provider before exercising in high heat and humidity.

Overheating and dehydration can lead to heat-related illness:

  • Heat cramps: This is the mildest form of heat illness. These painful muscle spasms occur mainly in the abdomen, calves and thighs.  Body temperature may be normal or mild fever may be present.
  • Heat Exhaustion:  This condition is more severe than heat cramps. This occurs when the body cannot cool itself down.  Body temperature will usually be over 102°.  Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, fatigue, fainting, weakness, anxiety and cold, clammy skin may also occur. If left untreated, this can progress to heat stroke.
  • Heat Stroke: This is the most severe form of heat illness and is a life-threatening emergency that requires immediate medical care. Warm, dry skin, a high fever usually over 104°, rapid heart rate, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, headache, fatigue, confusion, agitation, lethargy, stupor, seizures, coma and death are possible.

Use common sense when exercising in the heat. If you begin to feel uncomfortable, stop the activity immediately, get out of the sun, remove excess clothing and equipment, drink fluids and cool your body down.  If symptoms are severe or don’t subside within thirty minutes, seek medical attention immediately.

Enjoy summer and all it has to offer. Stay safe and exercise smart.

Debbie Friend, MSc is the Founder and CEO of LifeCurrents and a Certified Laughter Yoga Leader in Chicago, IL. Follow Debbie on Twitter

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