We’re deep into summer, people are exercising more than ever, and schools have begun daily training for fall sports like football, soccer and field hockey. While this may be the most active time of the year for most of us, it’s also the most dangerous time to exercise.
Working out in temperatures above 75° F and humidity above 50 percent can significantly raise your heart rate and put you at risk of heat-related illness and dehydration.
You can beat the summer heat by making these simple adjustments to your workout routine:
1. Drink Plenty of Water. Your body loses more water in the summer, and the best thing you can do for yourself is to stay hydrated. You should drink two glasses of water about an hour before you begin to exercise and consume another glass of liquid for every 20 minutes that you work out. If your workout is going to last longer than 90 minutes, or you are sweating excessively, you’ll need to replace electrolytes as well. Bring a sports drink instead of plain H2O.
2. Decrease the Intensity. When it’s hot outside, it's harder to exercise at your normal level of intensity. Heat and humidity both raise your heart rate, and your body has a harder time dissipating extra heat. Because of this, you should plan on only working out at 60-70 percent of the intensity of your normal routine. You’ll get the same amount of exercise, and you'll be safer.
3. Work Out in the Morning or at Night. Temperatures are highest between 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., so you should plan to work out either before or after that peak. Exercising in the cooler temperatures of the early morning or in the evening makes it easier for your body to cool itself and to stay fully hydrated. You should never exercise when it’s above 90° F outside, and you should always use extreme caution when working out in temperatures between 82-90° F.
4. Dress Appropriately. “Light” and “breathable” should be the first two words that come to mind when choosing what to wear during a workout. Synthetic fabrics that wick away moisture are ideal. You should also make sure to apply a high-SPF sunscreen to exposed skin. Sunburn prevents sweating and alters the body’s ability to dissipate heat, putting you at higher risk for heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
5. Acclimate Yourself. It takes the body 10-14 days to adjust to a new temperature, and you should ramp up your workout accordingly. Start slow and easy, and increase your workouts to about 60 percent of their normal intensity over the course of two weeks. If you don’t exercise regularly, it’s highly recommended that you begin in an air-conditioned facility before moving your workout outside.
Following these five simple steps will make summer workouts safer for you and your children, but that doesn’t mean the safety precautions should stop there. Small children, the elderly, people with certain medical conditions, and people with a history of heat-related illness are at much higher risk of heat exhaustion than the general population – and everyone needs to know the signs of the truly dangerous types of heat-related illness. These include heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Heat cramps may precede these conditions.
- Heat cramps (cramping in the large muscles such as in your legs and core muscles) can be a sign that you're not drinking enough fluids during exercise and can be a precursor to more serious conditions. The cramps are the result of electrolyte and fluid loss. If you experience them while exercising, it's a clear signal to get out of the heat, cool down, and drink some water or a sports drink. Your body is sending you a message. What follows could be more serious.
- Heat Exhaustion. A person suffering from heat exhaustion may have a core temperature of up to 104° and may experience cramps, nausea, vomiting, dizziness and headache. Skin may be cool and clammy. If you experience these symptoms, it is important to stop and cool off immediately – consider pouring cold water over your skin to speed cooling. Again, replenishing your fluids is crucial. Monitor your symptoms and body temperature, and if they don't diminish, seek medical attention at once.
- Heat stroke can be the result when an overheated person does not take the necessary steps to cool down, and it is a medical emergency. It occurs when the core body temperature rises above 104°. There is a serious risk of organ and brain damage and possibly death. Symptoms are similar to those of heat exhaustion but may also include confusion and fainting. Move yourself or your friend into the shade at once and pour cool water over the skin. If mental functioning seems normal, also provide water. A person with altered mental function may choke when given water. This is an emergency – call 911.
You should always pay attention to how your body is handling the higher temperatures. Any time you begin to feel dizzy or nauseous, stop what you’re doing and drink something immediately. These are early symptoms of dehydration, and ignoring your body’s need for liquids can lead to heat-related illness. It’s better to take a few minutes during your workout or practice to ensure that you stay healthy.