During warm summer days, it's tempting to take your workouts outdoors, whether it is running, biking, hiking or playing sports. However, training in the heat may lead to heat-related illness, such as heat cramps, heat exhaustion or heat stroke, and even injury.
Olga Hays, an American Council on Exercise-certified wellness promotion specialist at Sharp HealthCare, says, "If you're going to train during hot summer days, there are several things you need to do to protect yourself from the heat."
Be sure to drink plenty of water before and during your workout. Even mild dehydration can cause fatigue, headaches and anxiety. Always consume more fluids than you think you need before and after exercise, and strive to drink six to eight ounces of fluid every 15 to 20 minutes during exercise. If you are working out in the heat for long periods of time, it's also important to consume beverages that contain electrolytes to replenish minerals lost through prolonged sweating and to prevent imbalance in body fluids.
Calibrate exercise intensity
Reduce the intensity of your workout, especially the first few times you exercise in higher temperatures. Start by exercising in the heat for only a few minutes each day and gradually increase the amount of time you can tolerate outdoors.
Dress for the weather
Wear lightweight clothing made of open-weave natural fibers (such as cotton or wool) or fluid-wicking fibers. This helps increase evaporation and cool the body. Also, try to wear light-colored clothing instead of dark-colored clothes, which absorb the heat of the sun and can make you even hotter.
Mind the humidity
When humidity is high, sweat "sticks" to your skin and doesn't evaporate as easily. This can push your body temperature even higher and lead to heat exhaustion or even heat stroke. During hot and humid days, consider a wet workout (like swimming in cool water, paddleboarding or an aqua aerobics class) or even take your workout inside.
You can also exercise in cooler places such as along trails with shady woods or by a breezy shoreline to help you stay cooler. It can be 10 or more degrees cooler in these areas rather than the sunny streets in your neighborhood.
Exercise later in the day
During hot days try to exercise when the temperatures aren't as high. Run or walk in the morning, or go out at sunset. To stay motivated, you can also join a sports team that meets in the evenings. From softball to kickball to running groups, there's something for everyone.
"It's also important to learn the warning signs of heat-related illness," says Hays.
Know the signs of trouble
Immediately stop your workout, cool down and rehydrate if you notice any of these symptoms:
- Heavy sweating
- Cold, pale and clammy skin
- Fast, weak pulse
- Nausea or vomiting
- High body temperature (above 103°F)
- Hot, red, dry or moist skin
- Rapid and strong pulse
- Possible unconsciousness
"You should seek prompt medical help if any of these symptoms persist after you've stopped exercising," Hays adds.
"While exercising in the heat is generally safe for most people, taking the above precautions is still necessary to enjoy working out outside while staying safe and injury-free," says Hays. "Also, know when to say no to exercise. Headache, nausea, chills, vision issues and exhaustion are all signs that your body needs a break. Take a few days from working out or cut back on your current routine to allow your body to rest."
"Listening to your body and using common sense is your best bet for averting heat stress and maintaining your health," Hays explains.