By Kevin M. DuPrey, D.O.
Summer is heating up, but that doesn’t mean your workout has to suffer. Here are a few tips for exercising in the heat.
Tip #1: Warm Up to Summer
It takes time to get used to exercising in the heat. When exposed to warmer conditions, your body becomes more efficient at cooling down through a process called “acclimatization.” During this process, your body uses less energy to keep you cool by doing things like losing less salt when you sweat. You might notice that your sweat leaves a salty whitish film early on in the summer, and less so as you adapt to the heat. Acclimatization is a gradual process and takes place over days to weeks, so give this one some time. Many high school, college and professional football teams now require a week or more of heat acclimatization prior to full summer training to prevent heat-related illnesses.
Tip #2: Play it Cool
So now that you’re used to the heat, it’s time to exercise smarter. Try to avoid exercising outside between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., which is almost always the hottest part of the day. Pay attention to the heat index, which combines the humidity with the temperature, to give you an idea of what it will actually feel like. Choose trails in shaded areas as opposed to pavement and rubber tracks, which can radiate heat later in the day. Runners in the Badwater Ultramarathon, in Death Valley, CA, have been known to run on the white lines on the road, as running on the actual pavement has melted the rubber right off of their shoes!
Tip #3: Stay Hydrated
Many people think the best way to hydrate is drinking a big glass of water right before exercise, but many people are wrong. Hydration is a gradual process that begins first thing in the morning. Your body loses water when breathing and sweating during the night, so you’re already dehydrated when you wake up. I recommend drinking a large glass or two of water first thing in the morning. It’s helpful to drink small amounts throughout the day, as a large glass right before exercise can slosh around in your stomach. I’ve been asked if electrolyte replacement sports drinks are the best way to hydrate, and my answer is no. These can be helpful during exercise to replace lost sodium, but the average American gets more than enough salt in their diet for adequate fluid absorption.
Tip #4: Be Safe
Signs of heat exhaustion include headache, dizziness, lightheadedness, nausea, vomiting, muscle cramps, cool and clammy skin, and chills. Heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke, a serious medical condition, when the body reaches 105 degrees Fahrenheit. This can result in seizures, confusion, and personality changes such as aggressive behavior. Cooling with an ice bath or ice packs on the neck and armpits can bring your temperature down quickly, but if you have signs of heat stroke, you need to call 911.
On a lighter note, as summer temperatures rise, don’t let the heat keep you from your favorite fitness activities. Just warm up, be cool, drink water, and/or learn the location of your closest industrial-sized freezer.
About the Author
Dr. DuPrey specializes in sports medicine and enjoys working with patients of all ages and abilities to allow them to return to the activities they enjoy in the safest and most effective manner. His holistic approach is to look at the whole picture and help prevent future injuries.