Exercising in the summer heat without taking the necessary precautions can cause heat-related illness including heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. Even worse, these illnesses can be fatal. For instance, heat stroke is the leading cause of disability and death among high school athletes, affecting more than 9,000 high school athletes annually. This is according to a 2010 report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Additionally, the CDC also reports that about 7,500 died of extreme heat in America from 1999 to 2010. Heat stroke occurs when the body is subjected to intense physical activity, such as intense exercises, in a hot and humid environment without first allowing the body to acclimatize to these conditions. With that in mind, here are five tips on how to stay safe when exercising in the summer heat.
According to the CDC, acclimatization to heat causes the body to develop certain physiological adaptations that enable it to cope with heat stress. These adaptations include the ability to exercise with lower heart rate and lower core temperature, improved sweating and evaporative efficiency, and improved electrolyte retention. To acclimatize to hot summer weather, you should adopt a training regime that combines consistent training and heat exposure for seven to 14 days. In essence, you should start slowly and then gradually increase your training intensity. For instance, you could start with less intense workouts in the afternoon heat and gradually progress to higher-intensity exercises as your body acclimates to the heat. It is important to note that your body can lose the aforementioned physiological adaptations just as quickly as it gains them. In other words, you should exercise regularly and consistently to retain the adaptations.
Research shows that proper hydration is vital when working out in the summer because it lubricates the body, promotes cooling through sweating and helps to keep blood volume constant. For these reasons, the American College of Sports Medicine says that you should ensure you remain hydrated before, during and after exercising. It is important to note that proper hydration varies from person to person since everyone is different. Still, the American Council on Exercise (ACE) says that you should drink about 20 ounces of water a few hours before exercising, about 10 ounces of water during the warm-up process, about 10 ounces during exercise, and about 10 ounces within 30 minutes of completing your workout. Weighing yourself before and after exercising would help you determine your water needs more accurately.
According to a study titled “Exercise in the Heat: Strategies to Minimize the Adverse Effects on Performance” published in Journal of Sports Sciences, sweating leads to the loss of electrolytes including potassium, sodium, and chloride. This is a problem because electrolyte imbalance tends to compromise the body’s ability to absorb and retain water, leading to health problems such as low blood pressure and breathing problems, irregular heartbeat, and muscle cramps. This is where sports drinks come in handy. More specifically, sports drinks can help replenish depleted electrolytes. However, it is important to note that sports drinks, particularly the ones that fall under the sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) category, can promote weight gain because they contain high amounts of added sugar. This is according to research done by the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity. SSBs are ideal for athletes who engage in high-intensity training lasting at least an hour, the Rudd Center explains.
Thankfully, you can get electrolytes from other sources. In fact, according to a 2007 study titled “Rehydration after Exercise in the Heat: a Comparison of 4 Commonly used Drinks” published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, apple juice-water drink can help replenish the electrolytes lost as a result of exercising in the heat. The study compared four drinks including mineral water, water, dilute apple juice and Gatorade and found dilute apple juice to be the only effective drink out of the four drinks.
Having a cold drink before you exercise in the heat is an effective precooling strategy because it would improve your endurance, lower your skin temperature and heart rate. This is according to a 2008 study done by researchers at Loughborough University, Leicestershire, United Kingdom.
Avoid Asphalt and Concrete
If you intend to engage in outdoor exercises such as jogging or brisk walking, you should exercise in a natural setting such as park because such areas are typically cooler compared to areas paved with asphalt or concrete.
Research shows that exercising in the summer can be potentially dangerous because of the brutal heat and high humidity, which may cause heat-related illnesses such as heat stroke. For this reason, you should take precautions if you intend to work out in the summer. Some of the precautions you should take include acclimatizing to the heat, remaining properly hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids and replenishing your electrolytes levels to avoid an electrolyte imbalance.