by Samantha Clayton, OLY, ISSA-CPT, Vice President, Sports Performance and Fitness Education
Summertime weather motivates us to spend more time outside, but before lacing up those workout shoes and heading out the door, it’s important to take precautions when exercising in the heat. Training in the heat adds an additional level of stress to the body because it must work harder to maintain a balanced core temperature. Being exposed to extreme heat for long periods of time may cause our natural cooling system to fail. Our body sweats to cool down, but excessively in the heat, and losing that additional fluid results in loss of performance and can lead to more serious health consequences and threatening heat-related illnesses. Fortunately, there are several simple safety tips you can follow while exercising this summer outdoors.
Check the weather
Be aware of the expected weather conditions for the duration of your outdoor activity. According to the National Weather Service, a heat index at or above 90 degrees Fahrenheit poses a significant health risk when engaging in physical activity outdoors. However, this temperature can vary as each person has a different heat tolerance and fitness level. Where you live can also play a factor in what is too hot.
It’s also extremely important to be aware of humidity. Humidity is particularly dangerous as it raises the overall heat index and the moisture in the air preventing the body from using its typical cooling mechanism of sweating and evaporation to cool down. In addition, due to blood flow changes as your body sends blood closer to the surface of the skin to cool down, muscles are deprived, and this can cause cramping and other circulatory distress for the heart.
If it’s humid and hot outside, don’t take a chance and instead choose a cool time of day to avoid midday sun. Early morning exercise is optimal since humidity rises as the day goes on. Yet, you can always opt for an indoor workout on a hot summer day. Head to your local gym or try an at-home workout and enjoy the sunshine some other day.
Wearing appropriate clothing to help cool the body and wick away sweat will help you to stay cool and dry. Your outdoor gear should include loose and lightweight clothing that will facilitate heat loss and shield you from the sun’s UV rays. Avoid wearing hats and instead opt for visors. As the body loses heat through the head, a hat may hold in the heat while a visor will protect your face from the sun and allow your head to lose heat efficiently.
Regardless of what you wear, you can take additional steps to stay protected from the sun’s UV rays just by where you choose to workout. Find a shaded route to avoid direct sun and help keep you cool. Parks with trails usually are shaded by trees, making them the perfect path for a hot day.
It’s important to stay adequately hydrated to make up for fluid lost through sweating. The amount of fluid each person needs will vary based on how much they sweat, their size and level of fitness, but as a good baseline – for every 20 minutes of exercise try to sip at least 4 ounces of fluid or more. Following this standard will allow you to remain in constant state of hydration and aid your body’s cool down process. Since most people need several hours to replace the fluids lost, it’s best to replenish your body and avoid dehydration as soon as possible. Remember, our bodies lose more than just water when sweating so you may want to consider a sports drink like Herbalife’s H3O® Fitness Drink to promote hydration with electrolytes to keep a good sodium/potassium balance.
Listen to Your Body
It’s important to know the signs of heat exhaustion as you’re exercising. There are many signs to watch for including but not limited to nausea, confusion, fatigue, excessive sweating, irritability, low blood pressure, increased heart rate, visual disturbance, muscle cramps. It’s important to act immediately if you notice any of these symptoms. You should quickly stop all physical activity and find a cool place to rest. Get to a shady spot or an air-conditioned building nearby and take small sips of water. If these symptoms don’t subside after sufficient rest and fluids, medical attention may be necessary.
There’s no need to cancel your exercise plans completely when it’s hot out. By taking the right precautions, many people can safely continue exercising outdoors. Nothing feels better than hitting the fresh summer air but remember that the risks far outweigh the rewards when it comes to training in extreme heat. So, make sure to take care of your body and avoid pushing yourself too hard during outdoor exercise this summer.