This summer seems to be one of the hottest on record. My area reached 100 degrees yesterday, with a heat index of 110. If you live in a climate where this is the norm for the summer, it’s not big deal for you. But here on the East Coast, this is unheard of. So is it safe to exercise outside in this heat and humidity? It depends – if you are smart about it, it can be safe. Following these 5 guidelines will help.
- Avoid dehydration / heat stroke.
Our muscles regulate heat by sweating. But when we sweat we lose fluids. When you have been sweating and you weigh yourself after a workout, you should not have lost 1 to 2 pounds. If you have, you are not staying hydrated enough. This is the most important rule for exercising in the heat. If the humidity also is high, it pushes your body temperature even higher because sweat doesn’t easily evaporate from your skin. Professionals recommend drinking 20 ounces of water two hours before exercise, at least 8 ounces of water shortly before getting out in the heat, and then a gulp every 15 to 20 minutes during exercise even if you are not thirsty.
- Get plenty of electrolytes and salt.
In addition to water, your body needs electrolytes and salt. These are elements found in sports drinks such as Gatorade. If you are doing a short workout, this is not as important, but any long, sustained time spent outdoors and sweating requires replenishment of these. My husband worked outside on road construction, and always drank plenty of water. One day, in a rare heat wave, he only drank water and did not intake any salt. That evening he began to vomit and passed out. He was rushed to the emergency room with severe dehydration. It can come upon you quickly and without warning, so make sure the electrolytes and salt are included in your fluid intake if outdoors for an extended period of time.
- Exercise in early am or late pm
Avoid midday workouts (10am-3pm) when it is hottest. Unless you are training for an event that will take place in midday, and you need to acclimate to the heat, it is best to work out when the air is cooler and the sun’s rays are not as intense. If you must work out in the middle of the day, be sure that there is plenty of shade along your route so you are not constantly in the sun’s glare.
- Wear light weight, light colored breathable clothing
Light clothing will keep you cooler, as dark colors absorb heat. Loose fitting, breathable clothing helps the sweat evaporate. Do not wear clingy clothes as they hold the heat in. Also, make absolutely sure to use sunscreen on all exposed body parts.
- Don’t try something new
If you have never done a certain exercise before, the hottest days are not the time to try something new. If you have been walking, do not start running now. Do keep up your walking, using common sense in the heat. Understand that you may not be able to do the same amount of work that you are able to do in cooler weather. If you cannot run the same 5 miles that you run during the spring, that is ok. Do not over do it!
The Mayo Clinic lists the following signs and symptoms of heat related illness (heat cramps, dehydration, heat exhaustion, or heat stroke, as well as actions to take if affected by the heat:
- Muscle cramps
- Nausea or vomiting
- Sweating extensively
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Low blood pressure
- Increased heart rate
- Visual problems
“If you develop any of these symptoms, you must lower your body temperature and get hydrated. Stop exercising immediately and get out of the heat. If possible, have someone stay with you who can help monitor your condition.
Remove extra clothing or sports equipment. If possible, fan your body or wet down your body with cool water. You may place cool, wet towels or ice packs on your neck, forehead and under your arms, spray yourself with water from a hose or shower, or sit in a tub filled with cold water. Drink fluids — water or a sports drink.
If you don’t feel better within 30 minutes, contact your doctor. If you have signs of heatstroke, seek immediate medical help.”
So go ahead and exercise in the heat, but take it easy and follow the guidelines. Most importantly, if you feel off, STOP!