Don’t Let Heat Defeat Your Plans
We all know that sleep, nutrition, and exercise are key to our physical, mental, and emotional well being. So there is strong motivation to stick to your established exercise routine throughout the year, especially during the summer months when the days are longer and the sun is shining. However, hyperthermia — the condition of a dangerously overheated body — can occur in less than extreme heat. Even moderately hot weather, when combined with exercise, can cause a range of heat-related symptoms, some severe. The risks become greater as we age because our cardiovascular system tends to lose its ability to regulate our internal temperature. Certain medical conditions can also exacerbate the situation.
CiminoCare would like share a summary of information we’ve gathered from a number of sources that will help understand how hyperthermia can impact us; who is most susceptible; and what we can do to limit our risks.
How Overheating Can Impact Us
To provide context, heat can kill. Estimates vary widely, partly due to definitions of cause of death, but there is no disputing that the number of heat-related deaths in the United States is significant. Our goal is not to cause fright our undue concern; it is to emphasize the importance of taking precautions.
As expected, the impact of overheating is a range of conditions, often beginning at the mild end of the spectrum and becoming increasingly severe as external factors intensify and/or the individual ignores early warning signs. Once again, we’re not trying to elicit panic, but it is important to understand how our exposure to heat can accelerate into unnecessary medical complications.
At the broadest level, medical resources report three levels of heat-related illnesses:
- Heat Cramps — The mildest form, characterized by muscle cramps and spasms, along with moist, flushed skin.
- Heat Exhaustion — At this level, the body has lost water and salt to the point where it is no longer able to properly regulate its temperature. A range of symptoms might include dizziness, nausea, fever, headache, weakness, and feeling anxious or faint.
- Heatstroke — Now the body is overwhelmed by heat and is facing a life-threatening situation. The person could be experiencing a rapid heart rate, very high fever, warm/dry skin, lethargy, or even seizures or coma. Immediate medical attention is required.
For most of, we want to avoid any such symptoms, but some of the early warning signs might include the following:
- Muscle cramps
- Swelling of the ankles
- Extreme thirstiness
We’re not going to go any further because if you experience any of the above it is already time to take action: stop exercising; get to a cool location; drink fluids; rest; monitor your condition. It might be wise to also alert a friend and possibly seek medical help if you feel your condition has advanced to a serious level.
Certain People Are More Likely To Be Impacted By Heat
As previously mentioned, our bodies become somewhat less resilient to heat as we age, owing to a general decrease in our cardiovascular system’s ability to regulate body temperature. But there are a number of conditions that make some people more susceptible to overheating, several of which we have listed, below:
- Old age
- Heart disease
- Sleep deprivation
- Certain medications
We include exercise because it’s a factor over which we have the greatest control and it is often overlooked as a risk by otherwise healthy, active adults. It also provides a great segue into the focus of our discussion, which is how to exercise responsibly when temperatures climb.
How To Limit Your Risks Of Overheating
Now that we’re through some of the doom-and-gloom about those rare instances when overheating becomes a medical issue, we can focus on the simple and effective ways for us to maintain our normal exercise routines when temperatures climb.
Stay Hydrated — Our body needs water to properly regulate temperature. Both exercise and heat have the effect of dehydrating us, so we simply need to be vigilant in replenishing our fluids. Worth noting is that we also lose salt as we lose water, so it is best to include some fluids that contain electrolytes. Sports drinks definitely contain electrolytes, but they may also contain more sugar and/or sodium than is recommended. A proper diet should provide the electrolytes we need, but fluids such as 100% fruit juices and coconut water should do the trick.
Avoid Sun and Extreme Temperatures — Clearly, a wise strategy is to adjust our workout schedule so that we avoid exercising in direct sunlight and/or during the hottest period of the day. Early mornings are almost always cooler and many areas enjoy a significant drop in evening temperatures.
Seek Air Conditioning — If you have access to a gym or exercise venue that offers air conditioning, all the better. Just be aware that air conditioning tends to remove moisture from the air, so don’t forget our first point about hydrating.
Wear Appropriate Clothing — If you’ll be outside or in a warm location, consider wearing light colored clothing that reflects the sun’s heat and choose fabrics that wick perspiration away from the body.
Modify Your Routine — Consider reducing the intensity of your workout a bit during bouts of extreme high temperatures, or choose forms of exercise that do not raise the core body temperature so much. For example, most forms of yoga or light weight training will likely keep you out of the direct sun and won’t elevate your heart rate as much as an intense cardiovascular workout.
Acclimate — If you’ve just relocated to a place that is hotter than your normal surroundings — which is very common while on vacation — don’t assume you can continue with your normal activities. Allow your body time to acclimate and test yourself with modest workouts until you’ve demonstrated an ability to handle the heat. And absolutely avoid the temptation to be more active than normal just because you’re in a new environment and presented with new, tempting activities.
Stay Hydrated — Yes, we’re repeating this point because it is so crucial. We also want to remind you that proper “hydration” is a process that takes time. You cannot simply drink a lot of fluids immediately prior to strenuous exercise and assume that your body is suddenly equipped to beat the heat. While drinking fluids can begin to eliminate the effects of dehydration in an hour or so, it could take 2-3 days to return to normal after more severe hydration. It’s best to make proper hydration part of your daily routine, not just when it’s hot outside.
Exercise Caution When Exercising
In summary, maintaining your exercise routine when temperatures climb is largely a matter of understanding how the body reacts to heat and exercise, then taking some precautions to avoid overheating. As always, “listen” to what your body is telling you, particularly when temperatures soar.
CiminoCare hopes that this information has proven to be of interest and value to you, but we also want to stress that we are simply sharing widely distributed and repeated information on the topic. For every individual, it is always best to consult with a medial professional who is familiar with your current health conditions before starting, resuming, or continuing an exercise program.