Seven tips for exercising safely during a heat wave

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By Dr. Ollie Gibson, Dr. Ash Wilmott, Dr. Justin Roberts

Jul 18, 2022

Dr Oliver Gibson is a Senior Lecturer in Exercise Physiology at Brunel University London.

Dr. Ash Wilmott is a lecturer in sport and exercise science, and Dr. Justin Roberts is an associate professor of nutrition for health and exercise at Anglia Ruskin University.

When summer temperatures soar, the thought of exercising might be the furthest thing from your mind. But just because it’s hot doesn’t mean you can’t work out yet if you want to, although there are some adjustments you may need to make to your normal routine.

In general, the elderly, children, pregnant women, and people with underlying health conditions are more at risk and more susceptible to the adverse effects of heat stress. So these groups may want to forego exercise when temperatures warm up. But even if you’re a generally healthy and active person, it’s still important to exercise caution if you decide to exercise.

When the stress of exercise and the heat combine, great pressure is placed on our body to reduce body temperature. One of the most notable ways our bodies respond is through sweating, which is an important part of our body’s primary cooling mechanism: evaporation. That’s why our body sweats more when it’s hot outside or when we train.

There is also a greater demand on our cardiovascular system. When we exercise, our muscles need adequate blood flow to keep them moving. When it’s hot, the heart has to work even harder to divert blood to the skin’s surface, where it’s cooled and recirculated.

This not only makes it harder to exercise on a hot day, but it’s why prolonged exercise in the heat can lead to dehydration. It can also make it harder for the heart, muscles, and lungs to work properly.

If you plan to exercise on a hot day, here are some of the best things you can do to beat the heat:

1. Stay hydrated

Make sure you’re hydrated before you even think about exercising. Pale yellow urine is usually the best way to tell if you are sufficiently hydrated. During exercise, consume fluids often in small amounts and keep them cool by leaving them in the shade or storing them in an insulated bottle.

You can also consider adding electrolyte tablets to your water. Not only do they improve taste, but they also replace essential minerals (including sodium and potassium) lost through sweat. Finally, be sure to rehydrate after your workout with cool water, a sports drink, or even a glass of milk, which provides protein and electrolytes.

2. Decrease the intensity of the exercise.

Start your training gradually and reduce your intensity to account for the higher heart rate and increased perceived exertion. Also consider temporarily replacing your outdoor exercise with indoor activities, such as a workout in an air-conditioned gym or swimming if you can.

3. Plan ahead

Pay attention to the weather forecast before setting off and finish your exercise early in the morning or late in the evening, when outside temperatures and solar heat are lower.

4. Dress appropriately

Wear loose, light-colored, breathable clothing so your sweat can evaporate more easily, helping your body cool down. Also take a hat and sunglasses. It is important to apply a strong, water-resistant sunscreen (at least SPF 30 or more) 30 minutes before you start to avoid sunburn.

An exercise buddy can help you spot the signs of heat illness. Maridav/ Shutterstock

5. Change it up

Avoid exercising in urban areas if you can. Look for a cooler place to train that offers green spaces, shade, and even surrounding water. If you run, do it in a loop to allow cool drinks to stay in convenient places to rehydrate. You might also consider training with a friend so you can both keep an eye on each other.

6. Combine cooling methods

Use both internal (like eating ice cream or drinking cold water) and external (like wearing an ice vest or cold towel) cooling methods before, during, and after a workout. Running the hands, forearms and feet under cold water is also effective in reducing the temperature. But nothing beats a cold shower — or even an ice cold bath — before and after exercise.

7. Listen to your body

Heat-related illnesses can be life-threatening, so it’s important to be as careful as possible when exercising on a hot day. Keep an eye on your heart rate and listen to how your body is feeling. Symptoms of heat illness include headache, dizziness, confusion, excessive sweating, muscle cramps (including in the stomach), nausea, severe fatigue, and abnormally heavy or an elevated heart rate. Listen to your body, modify your training and stop if you don’t feel well.

However, the body reacts surprisingly quickly to heat. After five to ten days of exercising in hot weather, your body is better able to handle it and you are less likely to suffer from the heat. That being said, it’s still important to use common sense if you decide to exercise in hot weather, modifying your training and listening to your body.

If you suspect you are suffering from heat illness, try to cool your body as quickly as possible by immersing or spraying yourself with cold water or fanning yourself in the shade. Emergency help should be sought if it is serious.

Article originally published on The Conversation | original article

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