Stay safe every time you break a sweat outside this summer
As the heat index rises, so too does your risk of developing some sort of heat-related illness. And if you regularly take your workout outdoors, then you need to take extra precautions before you start exercising.
“If it’s hot, humid, and there’s no breeze, sweat cannot evaporate and your body has no effective way to release the rapid and potentially excessive heat production from exercise,” says Michael Bergeron, Ph.D., executive director of the Sanford Sports Science Institute. And when you have no way to cool yourself, your body temperature can reach dangerous levels quickly.
The good news: You don’t have to avoid the heat altogether to stay healthy. In fact, these issues can pop up in warm or somewhat cool conditions, too. Here’s a look at some of the most common heat-related conditions and how best to avoid them.
Signs: Subtle twitches or cramping that progressively turns into painful muscle spasms, plus signs of dehydration—including heavy sweating or salt residue on your clothes.
Cause: “The likely cause is going to be some sort of electrolyte depletion,” says Rebecca Stearns, Ph.D., vice president of operations and director of education for the Korey Stringer Institute at the University of Connecticut.
Treat: Stop exercising and head for the indoors where it’s cool. Consume a high concentration of electrolytes, especially sodium. “Try eating a bouillon cube, or adding salt to your sports drink,” says Stearns. You can also apply ice to ease pain/swelling.
Prevent: “Weigh yourself before and after a one-hour run. The difference is what you sweat out and should replace,” she says. Men usually lose about 1.5 liters of fluid—about 3 pounds—per hour. You can also do a quick pee-check before going out: If it’s the color of apple juice instead of lemonade, you’re already dehydrated.
Signs: Weakness, dizziness, nausea, headache, elevated body temperature (less than 104 degrees), and often collapse.
Cause: “There’s a disruption in body fluid distribution—blood moves away from organs and out to extremities—which causes you to become faint and collapse,” says Stearns.
Treat: Lie down with your feet elevated to help send blood back to your heart. Also apply a cold towel to your skin and drink plenty of fluids.
Prevent: It’s best to be well hydrated and heat acclimatized through a progressive introduction to exercising in hot temps over a period of 10 to 14 days, says Bergeron. Also try wearing a cooling vest as you run or rotate cold, wet towels under your arms and legs to help keep your temp down.
Signs: It’s the most dangerous heat problem you can face, characterized by a body temperature of 104 degrees, delirium, dizziness, circulatory failure, collapse, and potential organ and tissue damage.
Cause: Your body temp spikes suddenly from exertion and dehydration, causing your central nervous system to break down, says Sterns.
Treat: Stop exercising, get somewhere cool, immerse your body in an ice bath, and seek medical attention.
Prevent: Monitor your intensity, duration of exercise, and hydration according to the conditions, and if it’s going to be really hot outside, work out in the morning when it’s cooler. If you’re sick, avoid exercising in the heat altogether.
Symptoms: You feel thirsty, dizzy, or have a headache. “For every additional 1 percent of body mass lost during exercise you will have a heart rate increase of 6 beats per minute, a body temperature increase of .4 degrees, and a 1 to 2 percent decrease in your aerobic performance,” says Stearns.
Cause: Loss of body weight and fluid composition—at least 2 percent of weight.
Treat: Stop exercising, find a cool spot, and rehydrate with a well-balanced electrolyte drink.
Prevent: Start your workout fully hydrated and drink fluids throughout. (Aim for no more than 32 ounces of fluids per hour of outdoor exercise.) Learn not to overdo it on just water, though, since too much can lead to potentially dangerous hyponatremia—an over-hydration that causes and imbalance of sodium in the blood stream.