Heatsmart Workouts

How to play it safe when exercising in the summer sun.

By Stephen Hanks

June 2005

When professional and college football training camps open next month, the question from fans will be: “Is my team any good?” But the question from team doctors and trainers will be: “Can we get through another summer of two-a-day workouts in full pads during intense heat without a player collapsing or possibly dying of heat stroke?”

If world-class athletes can succumb to hyperthermia or exhaustion when training in the heat, so can you. If you think sweating up a storm when the weather is intensely warm is a smart way to lose weight, instead of stretching you’ll end up on a stretcher. We’re not saying you should never exercise in the summer heat. We’re saying that to be safe during warm-weather workouts, you need to know how to adjust your training to the sweltering conditions.

Sweating It Out

Why and how does working out in intense heat become dangerous? When you exercise you are exposed to both internal body heat and the external heat that comes from the combination of the temperature and humidity—otherwise known as the heat index. Humidity increases heat’s effects by limiting the cooling effects of sweating. Add the heat radiating from surfaces such as concrete or sand and instead of jogging in the sun you’ll feel like you’re baking in an oven.

Heat illness occurs when the body produces more heat than it can eliminate through sweating, which allows your body to cool itself. There are four levels of heat illness; all are mainly caused by dehydration and none of them are fun. They include:

* Muscle Cramps: Dehydration creates an imbalance between fluid and electrolytes, including salt and potassium.
* Fatigue: Symptoms can include weakness, dizziness, headache, rapid pulse and lowered blood pressure.
* Exhaustion: Same symptoms as fatigue but only more intense; sweating continues but body temperature can rise to as much as 104°F and hospitalization may be required.
* Heat Stroke: The body is so dehydrated that it can’t sweat, leading to disorientation, hot, dry skin, unconsciousness and ultimately a trip to the hospital.

Some experts believe women can handle training in the heat better than men. Women possess less muscle mass than men so they generate less internal heat while exercising and they also sweat more efficiently.

Surviving the Heat Wave

But anyone can fall victim to heat illness if you ignore the basic rules of exercise survival when the temperature is rising. The most important rule? You must drink as much water as you can before your workout. You can lose anywhere from a pint to a quart of fluid per hour while exercising in the heat. If those fluids aren’t replaced, you have less fluid to sweat and the body’s temperature will rise to dangerous levels. You even need to drink plenty of liquid when swimming. Some people think that because they are surrounded by water, it means they are well-hydrated. Not true—you must replenish lost fluids even when you’re working on your backstroke.

Try to drink 5 to 10 ounces of cool water every 15 minutes during exercise. If you plan on working out for longer than 90 minutes, add a sports drink to help restore nutrients. And, by the way, caffeine and alcohol are not good ways to hydrate yourself. They act as diuretics and cause dehydration.
In addition to adequate hydration and paying attention to the heat stress index, here are some more important tips for exercising in the heat:

* Acclimate your body to the heat for seven to 14 days by exercising at 60% of your usual effort at the beginning and increasing the effort slowly over the two-week period.
* Exercise in the early morning or early evening, when the sun’s heat isn’t as intense.
* Wear light, loose-fitting clothing that can breathe, such as cotton or any sweat-wicking fabric.
* Wear sunscreen no matter what time of day you exercise outdoors. Sunburns hinder your body’s ability to stay cool.
* Run on cool surfaces such as grass. Even white concrete is better than black pavement. When you run, consider cutting your distance in half and running it twice. This way you’ll be closer to home if you start experiencing symptoms of heat illness.
* Don’t push it if you are a very underweight, very overweight, pregnant or an older adult. You shouldn’t go beyond 60% to 70% of your maximum heart rate when exercising in the heat.
* Never keep exercising if you feel dizzy or nauseous, which may be signs of heat exhaustion. Seek rest in the shade and drink water until you feel better or you’ll be inviting heat stroke.

Exercising in the summer heat is hard work, but taking some simple precautions can make it a safe experience.

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