There is no denying that our climate is changing which means we are having hotter and longer summers. Many of us love doing physical activity outdoors but there are days when the heat and humidity are quite high. Or you head to the gym only to find that the air conditioning is out, and the inside feels like the outside. Now what do you do? These are two different scenarios but heat related illness can happen in both environments.
Heat does have an impact on our workout as exercising in the heat requires more energy than usual because the body is working harder to keep the body cool. More blood is being pumped to the skin to promote sweating in order to dissipate internal heat. If we are not careful when exercising in heat, we can be susceptible to heat-related illness such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke. This is not to steer you away from working out during a hot spell but to make sure you are cautious when there is extreme heat. The human body normally can regulate its temperature through sweating but sometimes it is exposed to more heat than it can handle. The good thing is that our bodies can adapt to heat as long as we take the proper precautions.
Tip One: Stay Cool
Make sure the clothes you wear are comfortable, loose fitting, and light colors. You want clothes that are sweat-wicking fabrics instead of cotton which absorbs your sweat. Wearing light colors is beneficial as it is reflecting while dark colors absorb the heat. Limit the time you exercise outdoors and choose the morning or evening times which tend to be cooler. If you are not accustomed to exercising outdoors in the heat, you will want to decrease your normal intensity level and then slowly increase intensity over the course of a few days. Our bodies are great because they can adapt to stressors we put on them. So, when heat stress is added we will be able to tolerate it - if we slowly train for it. Take frequent breaks and try to exercise in shaded areas to avoid overheating. Carrying a wet towel in a small cooler which will also help to keep you cool. And finally, make sure to wear sunscreen. It doesn’t help to keep you cool but it does protect you from the harmful rays of the sun.
Tip Two: Stay Hydrated
Make sure you are hydrated, not just the day of exercise but the day before as well. As your body begins to feel heat, you begin to sweat. This is an important process as when the sweat evaporates it helps to cool the skin. When you sweat you do not only lose water but salt and minerals as well. This is crucial because our bodies need these electrolytes to function properly. They are especially important during exercise because they help to regulate muscle contraction as well as keep you hydrated. Drinking water is great to re-hydrate you but in times of extreme heat consider drinking something that has electrolytes. Sports drinks are typically the go to; however, these drinks can have a lot of sugar. So, you might want to consider other drinks like coconut water. Make sure to drink fluids before, during, and after exercising. Do not wait until you feel thirsty as that means you may already be dehydrated. One way to determine if you are hydrated is by the color of your urine. If you are dehydrated it will look dark yellow and it will be light in color if you have healthy hydration levels.
Tip Three: Keep Each Other Safe
When working out in the heat do not ignore light-headedness, headaches, or feeling weak. These can be signs that you are experiencing a heat-related illness. Heat exhaustion symptoms are heavy sweating (out of the normal when exercising); cold, pale, and clammy skin; fast, weak pulse, muscle cramps, dizziness, nausea, confusion, high body temperature, and losing consciousness. These symptoms require a call to 911 right away. You must remember that these heat-related illnesses exist, and you cannot just power through them. For this reason, you do not want your core temperature too high, keeping it low should be the focus. This is easier when someone is with you. You can constantly remind each other to stay hydrated and to take breaks. Also, if you start feeling symptoms then you have someone that can help you or vice-versa.
Exercising in the heat is not impossible but remember these tips and you should be able to safely continue your workouts.
Belval, Luke. “Heat Acclimatization.” Korey Stringer Institute, 5 Mar. 2015, ksi.uconn.edu/prevention/heat-acclimatization/.
“Tips for Preventing Heat-Related Illness.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 19 June 2017, www.cdc.gov/disasters/extremeheat/heattips.html
“Warning Signs and Symptoms of Heat-Related Illness.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 Sept. 2017, www.cdc.gov/disasters/extremeheat/warning.html.
Cynthia Morales completed her Bachelors of Science degree in Kinesiology with an emphasis in Fitness at Long Beach State University. She loves promoting healthy lifestyle changes and helping people through their own journey to help them reach their wellness goals.