Summer Exercise in the Heat

Summer is in full effect, and due to some unforeseen conditions most of us are forced to exercise outside. Typically that is not such a bad thing, but in the middle of summer in some states the temperatures can exceed over 100 degrees at certain times of the day. Working out in extreme temperatures can be dangerous to our health, but some studies show that if done correctly there have been some truly amazing results. The key is preparation leading up to the summer exercise and taking the right precautions while watching out for signals that something might not be right. When in doubt always listen to what your body is trying to tell you.

How heat effects the body when exercising in the heat is, it adds additional stress to the body because its fighting to keep your internal core temperature down at a safe level. If at any time the stress or you core temperature becomes to high you are facing the possibility of serious illness amongst other things. Under normal conditions what typically happens when you exercise is the body is circulating more blood to the skin to help cool itself which leaves less blood circulating to the muscles which cause the heart rate to increase. Now if you add the effect of hot weather and humidity to this the sweat does not evaporate quickly enough which in turn only makes your internal core temperature even higher.

When talking about heat related illness there is a broad spectrum on symptoms ranging from mild and getting progressively worse if not attended too. Some things to look for; muscle cramps, nausea or vomiting, weakness, fatigue, headache, excessive sweating, dizziness or lightheadedness, confusion, irritability, low blood pressure, increased heart rate and visual problems. If you start experiencing one or more of these symptoms you must immediately start decreasing your core temperature and hydrate as much as possible.

Here is a list of heat related illnesses starting from the most mild to most severe:

  • Heat cramps – Heat cramps, sometimes called exercise-associated muscle cramps, are painful muscle contractions that can occur with exercise. Affected muscles may feel firm to the touch. You may feel muscle pain or spasms. Your body temperature may be normal.
  • Heat syncope and exercise-associated collapse – Heat syncope is a feeling of lightheadedness or fainting caused by high temperatures, often occurring after standing for a long period of time, or standing quickly after sitting for a long period of time. Exercise-associated collapse is feeling lightheaded or fainting immediately after exercising, and it can occur especially if you immediately stop running and stand after a race or a long run.
  • Heat exhaustion – With heat exhaustion, your body temperature rises as high as 104 F, and you may experience nausea, vomiting, weakness, headache, fainting, sweating and cold, clammy skin. If left untreated, heat exhaustion can lead to heatstroke.
  • Heatstroke – Heatstroke is a life-threatening emergency condition that occurs when your body temperature is greater than 104 F. Your skin may be dry from lack of sweat, or it may be moist.

As I mentioned earlier the key thing is prep your body correctly before exercise and pay attention to signals and symptoms if something may be happening, so some things that you can do to help prepare for a day out in the sun are;

  • Watch the temperature. Pay attention to weather forecasts and heat alerts. Know what the temperature is expected to be for the duration of your planned outdoor activity. In running events, there are “flag” warnings that correspond to the degree of heat and humidity. For example, a yellow flag requires careful monitoring, and races are canceled in black flag conditions.
  • Get acclimated. If you’re used to exercising indoors or in cooler weather, take it easy at first when you exercise in the heat. It can take at least one to two weeks to adapt to the heat. As your body adapts to the heat over time, gradually increase the length and intensity of your workouts.
    Know your fitness level. If you’re unfit or new to exercise, be extra cautious when working out in the heat. Your body may have a lower tolerance to the heat. Reduce your exercise intensity and take frequent breaks.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. Dehydration is a key factor in heat illness. Help your body sweat and cool down by staying well-hydrated with water. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink fluids. If you plan to exercise intensely, consider a sports drink instead of water. Sports drinks can replace the sodium, chloride and potassium you lose through sweating. Avoid alcoholic drinks because they can actually promote fluid loss.
  • Dress appropriately. Lightweight, loose fitting clothing helps sweat evaporate and keeps you cooler. Avoid dark colors, which can absorb heat. If possible, wear a light-colored, wide-brimmed hat.
  • Avoid midday sun. Exercise in the morning or evening, when it’s likely to be cooler outdoors. If possible, exercise in shady areas, or do a water workout in a pool.
  • Wear sunscreen. A sunburn decreases your body’s ability to cool itself and increases the risk of skin cancer.
    Have a backup plan. If you’re concerned about the heat or humidity, stay indoors. Work out at the gym, walk laps inside the mall or climb stairs inside an air-conditioned building. Be sure to read our article on Protect your skin from the summer sun!
  • Understand your medical risks. Certain medical conditions or medications can increase your risk of a heat-related illness. If you plan to exercise in the heat, talk to your doctor about precautions.

Hopefully this gives you all the information you need to know when it comes to exercising outside in the summer heat! Don’t worry too much and just have fun, its no sweat.