matter your exercise or activity of choice, it’s important to make sure you’re taking the appropriate steps to stay safe in the summer heat. As the temperature and humidity rise, so do incidences of heat-related illness. If you’re someone who plans to play in the heat this summer, take caution to prevent a potentially dangerous situation.
First, it’s helpful to understand how heat affects the body. A significant amount of the water in our bloodstream is lost through sweating. To replace this water, our body draws water from other tissues, leaving less blood for the muscles and increasing heart rate. In dry conditions, sweat evaporates quickly so only a small amount is needed to cool the body. However, in humid conditions, sweat takes longer to evaporate because there is already increased moisture in the air, so the body compensates by sweating more. If the body continues to lose fluid, you are likely to begin experiencing symptoms of heat illness. Below are the different types of heat-related illness and what to do if you begin experiencing symptoms.
• Heat cramps - painful muscle contractions most common in legs or abdomen; stop your activity and replenish your fluids
• Heat syncope – feeling lightheaded or fainting after exercising; laying down with legs elevated at the first warning sign may help avoid loss of consciousness
• Heat exhaustion – elevated body temp with symptoms including nausea, vomiting, headache, weakness, and cold and clammy skin. Move to a cool environment, remove or loosen clothing, and replenish liquids. Untreated symptoms may lead to heat stroke.
• Heat Stroke – your body temp has exceeded 104° F, and this is a life-threatening emergency. Heat exhaustion may progress to confusion, euphoria, visual changes, and sudden loss of consciousness. This is a medical emergency, and can lead to death or permanent neurological damage.
Paying attention to the body’s warning signs may save a life, so it’s important not to ignore what your body is trying to tell you. There are many steps to can take to ensure you stay cool in the heat to avoid injury all together. The following are just a few precautions to keep in mind:
• Watch the temperature and avoid exercising or increased activity during the hottest and most humid hours of the day (ideally, before 10 a.m. or after 6 p.m.).
• Get acclimated to the heat by gradually increasing the length and intensity of your outdoor activities and workouts over 1-2 weeks.
• Be realistic about your fitness level, and know that if you’re unfit or new to exercises, you may have lower tolerance to the heat.
• Stay hydrated to prevent dehydration, and don’t wait until you’re feeling thirsty to drink. If you’re planning intense exercise, consider sports drinks to replace electrolytes lost during sweating.
• Dress appropriately, including lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing and consider a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 if you’ll be in the sun.
• Be okay with changing your plans and staying indoors. Consider workouts in the gym or even walking laps around the mall.
Hot, humid weather doesn’t have to change your summer plans or your exercise routine. Just remember to take the necessary precautions to stay safe and cool despite the heat. And remember, your local Physical Therapist can help you identify safe, fun and appropriate exercises if you’re worried about any injuries or co-morbidities that may side-line your summer fun. Call your local Doctor of Physical Therapy today.
U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps: dcp.psc.gov/ccbulletin/articles/FitforDuty
Mayo Clinic: www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/fitness/in-depth/exercise/art-20048167
California Department of Public Health: www.ehib.org/page.jsp?page_key=173#heat_prevention