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Heat and Exercise: How to Stay Cool

Heat and Exercise: How to Stay Cool

Grace Bennett, RDN
Population Health Specialist, Apex Benefits

As summer temperatures continue to climb, it’s important to understand how to safely and successfully execute a workout in a hot environment.  If you aren’t intentional about factors such as workout timing, hydration and clothing, you run the risk of encountering potentially serious heat-related illnesses.

To start, it can be helpful to understand how heat and humidity cause extra stress on the body.

Usually, the core body temperature increases by 2-3% during exercise. However, prolonged exposure to high air temperature and humidity levels, in addition to the exercise, may compromise the body’s natural cooling mechanisms. For example, sweating is one of the body’s most effective cooling systems.

Under humid conditions, the high moisture content in the air prevents sweat from evaporating as quickly, thus decreasing this system’s efficacy and increasing body temperature even more. Additionally, as body temperatures increase, there is greater blood flow to the skin. This causes less blood to be circulated to working muscles, leading to an increased heart rate.

If the body’s cooling systems are rendered less effective, heat-related illness may result. Though instances of heat-related illness may be mild at first, they can worsen if left untreated. According to Mayo Clinic, signs and symptoms may include:

  • Headache
  • Weakness/Fatigue
  • Muscle cramps
  • Nausea/Vomiting
  • Dizziness/Lightheadedness
  • Irritability/Confusion
  • Excessive sweating
  • Increased heart rate

If you experience these symptoms, it is recommended that you stop exercise immediately, move out of the heat and get hydrated as quickly as possible. If you are experiencing heat exhaustion, removal of excess clothing and/or equipment, fanning the body, cool towels, or ice packs will also help bring down body temperature. If possible, always have someone stay with you to help monitor your symptoms. If your symptoms worsen or do not improve within an hour, you may need to seek medical care.

To avoid the development of heat-related illnesses, consider these tips:

  • Plan Wisely: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. is generally the hottest window of time on a summer day. If possible, try working out earlier in the morning or later in the evening.
  • Start Slow: If you’re new to exercise or used to exercising indoors, incorporate outdoor exercise gradually and allow your body time to adjust to higher temperatures. Start with shorter, easier workouts and slowly increase the length and intensity. Don’t forget to take breaks when needed.
  • Hydrate: The American Council on exercise recommends 17-20 ounces of water two hours prior to exercise, 7-10 ounces every 10-20 minutes during exercise, and about 16-24 ounces for every pound of body weight lost following exercise. If you’re partaking in more intense or prolonged exercise, consider a sports drink as well. Sports drinks contain electrolytes that help rehydrate your body and replace fluids lost in sweat.
  • Wear Appropriate Gear: Opt for lightweight and breathable clothing as this will help sweat evaporate more quickly. Keep in mind, light-colored fabrics reflect heat from the sun better than darker colors.

Don’t let the summer heat slow you down! Keep this information in mind and be smart with your workouts!

For more information, please reach out to Apex Benefits Director of Population Health and Analytics Sarah Michaels at smichaels@apexbg.com.