Stay safe while exercising in the heat!

Posted at 4:25 PM, Jun 24, 2015

Norfolk, Va. – Hampton Roads has been experiencing extremely high temperatures lately that have left many residents seeking shelter indoors. But for those who can’t miss their evening run around the neighborhood, make sure to take precautions to protect your body from the heat.

Exercising in hot weather puts extra stress on the body and can lead to serious illness if preventative steps aren’t taken. Heat-related illnesses occur across a spectrum. They may start off mild but will continuously get worse unless otherwise treated. The Mayo Clinic defines four types of heat illnesses:

  • Heat cramps are painful muscle contractions. Affected muscles may feel firm to the touch but body temperature may be normal.
  • Exercise-associated collapse is a feeling of lightheadedness or fainting immediately after exercising.
  • Heat exhaustion is when the body temperature may rise as high as 104 degrees. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, headache, weakness and cold, clammy skin. Heat exhaustion can turn into heat stroke if left untreated.
  • Heat stroke occurs when the body temperature rises above 104 degrees. It is a life threatening emergency condition. Signs of heatstroke include confusion, irritability, heart rhythm problems, nausea, fatigue, dizziness and visual problems. The skin may feel hot to the touch, but in some cases the body may stop sweating in an attempt to cool itself. Heat stroke requires immediate medical attention to prevent brain damage, organ failure or even death.

Once you know the signs and symptoms of heat related illnesses, an action plan is required to prevent these illnesses while exercising. Before venturing outdoors for an exercise session, make sure you’re aware of the temperature outside by checking the VIPIR forecast.

If you’re not accustomed to exercising outside, make sure you start by taking it slow and giving your body time to acclimate. Gradually increase the length and intensity of your outdoor workouts over the course of two weeks. Also make sure that you know your fitness level and what your body can reasonably handle.

Dehydration is a key factor in heat related illnesses, so make sure to drink plenty of fluids before, during and after exercise. Consider a sports drink instead of water if you are planning on exercising intensely. Sports drinks can replace the sodium, chloride and potassium that the body loses through sweating. Avoid alcoholic drinks before exercise because they can actually lead to dehydration.

While exercising, wear lightweight and loose fitting clothing which keeps you cooler Jogging_Woman_in_Grass
by helping sweat evaporate. Try to avoid wearing dark colored clothing because it absorbs heat. In addition to wearing proper clothing, don’t forget to wear sunscreen. Most people know that sunburns increase your risk of skin cancer but they also inhibit your body’s ability to cool itself.

When picking times of day to exercise, aim for the mornings and evenings. Avoid the midday sun, which is the hottest part of the day. If working out during the cooler mornings and evenings isn’t possible, or if you’re still concerned about the heat, have a backup plan. Try a water workout in the pool, head to the gym for that Zumba class or hit the mall to walk some laps.

Don’t let the heat sideline you from your favorite summer workout. Remember that heat-related illnesses are largely preventable if you take the above precautions to protect your body. If you still have questions or concerns, don’t be afraid to reach out to your doctor for more information.

-Danielle Ruble