Health and wellness articles

July 24, 2012

Keep your cool while exercising this summer

Summer is finally here and the amount of activity you can do outside is virtually endless. You can play tennis, softball, baseball, basketball, or just about any sport you like. Or, you can go for an exhilarating run or a long, relaxing walk.

But just because the weather is warm, you still have to protect your body. Heat can be just as dangerous as cold to your body. The sun and warm weather can also bring sunburns, heat exhaustion, dehydration, and heat cramps.

The dangers of summer workouts

Heat exhaustion is the result of too few body fluids in your system. You can tell if you have heat exhaustion if you start sweating very heavily. Or, if you have a rapid pulse or feel like you may throw up. Exercising in high temperatures or high humidity can cause heat exhaustion.

Heat cramps are painful muscle spasms. These can follow hard workouts in intense heat. Heat cramps are caused by loss of salt and water from sweating too much.

Keep your cool and stay healthy

Stopping these common problems is easy. It only takes a little preparation and knowledge about safety and exercise in the heat. LiveStrong.com offers these helpful hints:

  1.  Prevent Dehydration

    Dehydration can lead to heat-related illnesses such as heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke. Dehydration is when your body loses too much water. Preventing dehydration is simple and takes little planning. Start by drinking eight ounces of water the night before exercising outside. Then drink 16 ounces two hours before the activity.

    Sweat rates can double during hot and humid weather. So drink 4 to 8 ounces every 20 minutes during outdoor exercise.

    Know the temperature. If the temperature is lower than 80 degrees, you usually can be active outside without taking extra precautions. It depends on how active you already are and how used to hot weather you are.

    When the temperature gets above 80 degrees, consider the heat and the humidity. Both can put you at risk for heat-related illness. The hotter or more humid it is, the higher your risk.

    Be careful when you exercise in temperatures of 80 degrees to 85 degrees. Find shade, take regular breaks, and drink plenty of fluids. Experts advise being extremely careful when exercising between about 85 degrees and 91 degrees. Conditions are considered extremely dangerous at temperatures over 91 degrees.

    Dark and heavy clothing attracts heat and absorbs sweat during outdoor exercise. When socks are wet from sweat, they cause the fabric to rub against your skin. This can create blisters.

    The Mayo Clinic suggests limiting clothing to a single layer of light colored lightweight material. Wear socks made of CoolMax® or SmartWool®. These fabrics allow the feet to breathe and prevent blisters.

  2. Protect your face

    Your face is the first place to burn. This includes your eyes, ears, and neck. So protect them. Wear a lightweight hat with ventilation. That way you can cover your face and allow your head to breathe. Wear sunglasses that protect against UV rays and block glare during exercise.

  3. Use sunscreen

    More than 1.1 million people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year. This startling fact comes from the American Cancer Society. There is more skin cancer than prostate, breast, lung, colon, uterine, ovarian, and pancreatic cancers combined.

    Protect yourself. Apply sunscreen of at least SPF 15 that blocks both UVA and UVB rays. Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going in the sun so it can bind to the skin and prevent sunburn. Take extra steps if you plan to do water sports or if your activity will make you sweat a lot. Use a waterproof sunscreen and reapply every two hours.

  4. Be safe in the heat

    Make sure to take precautions when you are active outside. In hot weather, drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after activity. Water and sports drinks are best. They help to prevent dehydration and heat-related illness.

Water is all you need if you are exercising for less than an hour. For longer exercise periods, drink sports drinks that contain carbohydrates and minerals called electrolytes. These drinks may help your endurance and keep you from getting muscle cramps.

Here are other tips for exercising safely in the heat:  
  • Do not exercise as hard when it is hot. Take rest breaks. Exercise more slowly than usual or for a shorter time.
  • Stay in the shade when you can.
  • Avoid exercising during the hottest times of the day.
  • Watch for signs of heat exhaustion, such as nausea, dizziness, cramps, and headache. If you notice any of these signs, stop your activity right away, cool off, and drink fluids.
  • When it is more humid, you should be careful at even lower temperatures. Higher humidity can make it feel hotter, since your body cannot cool off as well by sweating. This puts you at a greater risk for illness.
  • Older adults and children are at a higher risk for heat-related illness. So, they should be extra careful. Remind children to drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after activity.
  • Be careful if you are overweight, have health problems, take medicines, or use alcohol. You may be at a higher risk for heat-related illness. You may also have trouble if you're not used to exercising in warmer weather.
  • Call 911 immediately if you have stopped sweating or have other signs of heatstroke. Heatstroke is very dangerous.
Safe ways to exercise outdoors
Now you know the dangers of exercising in the heat. WebMD.com offers ways to avoid them so you can take advantage of the warm weather:
  • When it's hot or humid, be active during the cooler times of day. Find shaded areas, like parks with big trees, and drink plenty of fluids. You have less chance of getting too hot if you do lighter exercise, like walking. Be sure to wear sunscreen.
  • Take morning or evening walks. Walking the dog or walking with a partner helps you make it part of your routine.
  • Go for a bike ride. Find shaded areas, and ride during cooler times of day.
  • Go swimming on hot days. This is a healthy family activity for summer.
  • Do light yard work or gardening. You'll burn calories while you keep the yard looking good.
  • Wash your car. This gets you outside and helps you burn calories. Give yourself a splash to stay cool.

When it's too hot, just head indoors
On some summer days, it's just too hot to exercise outdoors. But don't stop exercising. Just change your plans. Here are some great tips from WebMD.com for indoor options for summer exercise:

  • Go for walks at the mall. To count your steps, buy a pedometer from a sporting goods store. You can set walking goals to help you stay motivated.
  • Use light weights or stretch bands at home. You can stay fit while you watch TV or listen to music. Lift cans of food if you don't want to buy weights.
  • Buy or rent an exercise DVD, or borrow one from the library. You can stay in shape while you stay cool indoors.
  • Go dancing or take dance lessons. Or just turn on some music and dance in your living room. This gets you moving so you burn calories.
  • Do indoor housework like dusting, vacuuming, or washing the windows. This helps you stay active while you keep your home looking good.
  • On trips, stay at hotels with fitness centers or swimming pools. Make time for a workout. Take a jump rope to use in your room.
  • Join a gym or health club. You can take classes or use machines, like treadmills, stair-climbers, or stationary bikes. Many cities have community centers that offer affordable fitness classes. If you have health problems, ask your doctor before you use machines or take classes.
  • Join sports programs in your community or at work. Many cities offer indoor sports like basketball, volleyball, and soccer.

So stay active but stay cool this summer. It's the perfect time to get in shape or to stay in shape.