Exercising when it's hot can potentially be a dangerous activity if you don't take extra precautions. Any time the temperature gets over 80 degrees Fahrenheit, you've got to take some additional steps to ensure that your body doesn't overheat when you're exercising. The risk of overheating is even higher when the humidity is high. When there's more water vapor in the air, sweat doesn't evaporate from your skin as well as your body has a harder time of cooling itself.
Exercising in a hot environment places much more stress on the body than during a typical workout. More blood is circulated through your skin for the sweating process to accommodate the higher need for cooling, which means less blood is sent to your working muscles. As a result, your heart has to pump faster to try and circulate more blood. This extra workload further increases body temperature and further magnifies the risk of overheating.
While your body will work to keep itself at a safe temperature, it's not always able to keep up. And when your body isn't able to properly cool itself and its temperature rises to unsafe levels, a heat-related illness can occur.
- Heat cramps involve painful muscle contractions.
- Heat syncope is a condition that involves feeling lightheadedness and can cause fainting.
- Heat exhaustion is when the temperature in the body hits 104 degrees Fahrenheit. You will commonly feel sick and weak and if untreated, heatstroke can occur.
- Heatstroke is a life-threatening condition. Despite the body overheating, it may stop sweating. A person can become confused, irritable, and experience heart rate problems. Immediate medical attention is necessary or brain damage, organ failure or death can occur.
There are ways to greatly reduce your risk of overheating and improve your safety of exercising in the heat.
Stay Hydrated: Drink Water Before, During and Afterward
Staying hydrated is essential for preventing overheating. Fluids are necessary for the body to remain cool. If you become dehydrated, your body doesn't have the fluid it needs to properly manage the sweating mechanism.
If you know you're going to exercise in the heat, drink 1 to 2 cups of water 2 hours before you're set to exercise. Your body will lose fluid rapidly while you exercise, so to avoid unsafe fluid loss, drink a cup of water every 20 minutes of activity. Take in another 1 to 2 cups of water immediately following the end of your workout.
Ease up on the Intensity: Do a Shorter and Easier Workout
Understand that you're not going to be able to do your typical workout during a workout in the heat. You're going to need to adjust the intensity and duration of your session to prevent overheating.
For example, if you typically run for 5 miles, plan to do just 2 1/2 miles. Additionally, run slower than you normally would. If you need to, briskly walk on a hot day rather than run. To allow your body to gradually adapt to the extra stress, start off your workout at an extra low intensity and then increase your intensity bit by bit.
Stay out of the Sun: Exercise in the Morning or Night
If a heat wave is expected, adjust your workout schedule so that you're exercising at the coolest times of the day. Wake up early to work out as the sun rises or wait until the evening when the sun sets. If you can, stay out of the sun by exercising in the shade. If you have a gym membership, opt for an indoor workout on days that are particular hot.
Monitor How You Feel: Check for Heat Exhaustion Signs
Despite taking precautions, there's still a risk of overheating when you're exercising in the heat. It's important to constantly monitor how you feel and to constantly check for any signs of heat illness. Other problem signs include a rapid heartbeat, muscle cramping, and paling of the skin.
If you notice that you're feeling weak, light-headed, dizzy or nauseous, it's essential that you immediately stop your workout and take steps toward cooling. Find shade or go inside. Drink water. Wet a washcloth and wrap it around your neck or sit in a tub of cold water.
If after 30 minutes you still don't feel well, contact your medical professional. If you believe you have heatstroke, seek medical attention immediately.