Exercising in warm weather takes practice as your body learns to accommodate to the heat and humidity.
How heat affects your body
Exercising in hot weather puts extra stress on your body. If you don’t take care when exercising in the heat, you risk serious illness. Both the exercise itself and the air temperature and humidity can increase your core body temperature.
To help cool itself, your body sends more blood to circulate through your skin. This leaves less blood for your muscles, which in turn increases your heart rate. If the humidity also is high, your body faces added stress because sweat doesn’t readily evaporate from your skin. That pushes your body temperature even higher.
How to avoid heat-related illnesses
When you exercise in hot weather, keep these precautions in mind:
- Watch the temperature. Pay attention to weather forecasts and heat alerts. Know what the temperature is expected to be for the duration of your planned activity.
- Get acclimated. If you’re used to exercising indoors or in cooler weather, take it easy at first when you exercise in the heat. It can take at least one to two weeks to adapt to the heat. As your body adapts to the heat over time, gradually increase the length and intensity of your workouts.
- Know your fitness level. If you’re unfit or new to exercise, be extra cautious when working out in the heat. Your body may have a lower tolerance to the heat. Reduce your exercise intensity and take frequent breaks.
- Drink plenty of fluids. Dehydration is a key factor in heat illness. Help your body sweat and cool down by staying well-hydrated with water. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink fluids.
- Dress appropriately. Lightweight, loose fitting clothing helps sweat evaporate and keeps you cooler. Avoid dark colors, which can absorb heat. If possible, wear a light-colored, wide-brimmed hat.
- Avoid midday sun. Exercise in the morning or evening, when it’s likely to be cooler outdoors. If possible, exercise in shady areas, or do a water workout in a pool.
- Wear sunscreen. A sunburn decreases your body’s ability to cool itself and increases the risk of skin cancer.
- Have a backup plan. If you’re concerned about the heat or humidity, move your workout to the pool. At the gym consider a lower intensity workout, like a yoga class core training, or a lower intensity strength training session.
- Understand your medical risks. Certain medical conditions or medications can increase your risk of a heat-related illness. If you plan to exercise in the heat, talk to your doctor about precautions. Under normal conditions, your skin, blood vessels and perspiration level adjust to the heat. But these natural cooling systems may fail if you’re exposed to high temperatures and humidity for too long, you sweat heavily, and you don’t drink enough fluids. Pay attention to warning signs
- During hot-weather exercise, watch for signs and symptoms of heat-related illness. If you ignore these symptoms, your condition can worsen, resulting in a medical emergency. Signs and symptoms may include:
- The result may be a heat-related illness. Heat-related illnesses occur along a spectrum, starting out mild but worsening if left untreated. Heat illnesses include heat cramps, heat syncope (feeling of lightheadedness or fainting), heat exhaustion (nausea, weakness), and heat stroke.
Pay attention to warning signs
During hot-weather exercise, watch for signs and symptoms of heat-related illness. If you ignore these symptoms, your condition can worsen, resulting in a medical emergency. Signs and symptoms may include:
- Muscle cramps
- Nausea or vomiting
- Excessive sweating
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Low blood pressure
- Increased heart rate
- Visual problems
If you develop any of these symptoms, you must lower your body temperature and get hydrated right away. Stop exercising immediately and get out of the heat. If possible, have someone stay with you who can help monitor your condition.
In cases of heat exhaustion, remove extra clothing or sports equipment. Make sure you are around people who can help you and assist in your care. If possible, fan your body or wet down your body with cool water.
The most effective way of rapid cooling is immersion of your body in a cold- or ice-water tub.You may place cool, wet towels or ice packs on your neck, forehead and under your arms, spray yourself with water from a hose or shower, or sit in a tub filled with cold water. Drink fluids such as water or a sports drink. If you don’t feel better within about 20 minutes, seek emergency medical care.Allow your body to adapt to warm weather workouts by easing up until you feel more comfortable. Gradually increase the intensity and stay well-hydrated.
Written by Peggy Herforth, Mon Valley YMCA Wellness Director