How to Exercise in the Heat

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11 Summer Exercise Tips for Exercising Outside in the Heat and Humidity

11 Summer Exercise Tips for Exercising Outside in the Heat and Humidity

High temperatures and humid days do not have to completely derail your outdoor exercise plans. Here's how to keep moving while remaining safe.

Summer heat and humidity can put a damper on your workout plans. While moving your workout plans indoors into an air-conditioned space is an option, it's not the only way to stay cool during warm-weather workouts. Many people can still exercise safely outside on hot summer days with some planning and precautions.

Begin by learning how heat (heat around you and heat produced by you) affects your body.

Our bodies generate heat whenever we exercise. To avoid overheating, the body expel some of the heat into the air via sweat. "Sweat cools the skin's surface when it turns from liquid to vapor," says Oluseun Olufade, MD, an assistant professor of orthopedics at Emory School of Medicine and a sports medicine specialist. medicine physician for the Atlanta Hawks, US Soccer, and Emory University.

As a result, you sweat more when the air around you is hotter or when your body produces more heat through exercise — or both. Sweating is definitely beneficial when it comes to staying cool in the summer heat. During exercise, your body redirects blood flow away from your internal organs and toward the blood vessels around your skin to keep you cool.

Even with all of these built-in cooling systems, we can still overheat, particularly when exercising in hot weather. According to the Cleveland Clinic, when the heat you produce exceeds the heat you lose, your body temperature rises, which can cause serious health problems such as heat rash, Heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke are all symptoms of excessive heat (which can be fatal).

Here are some symptoms of heat 

exhaustion or heatstroke that should prompt you to seek medical attention right away:

  • Vomiting or nausea
  • Excessive body temperature (103 degrees F or higher)
  • Skin that is hot, red, dry, or damp
  • A strong, rapid pulse
  • Exiting the room

For a complete list of red flags that your body is overheating, consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's fact sheet on other heat-related illness symptoms.

What can you do to avoid overheating while exercising outside during the summer? Here are 11 pointers.

1. Allow Your Body to Adjust to the Heat

Everyone, regardless of fitness level, needs time to acclimate to the heat. According to a study published in the journal American Family Physician in April 2019, failure to do so is a risk factor for heat-related illness (along with poor physical fitness and strenuous exercise).

"Heat acclimation allows the body to become accustomed to operating in higher temperatures and helps prevent the system from being shocked during training," Dr. Olufade explains. When you take this step, you will be able to exercise at a higher level for a longer period of time while maintaining a lower body temperature when the temperature rises.

To do it (as the weather begins to change or if you're traveling somewhere with much warmer temperatures than you're used to), Olufade recommends beginning with shorter workouts and gradually increasing the duration and intensity over a 10- to 14-day period. Hold off on intense or long workouts in the heat until you've gotten used to it.

2. Understand Your Risk

Because of a variety of factors (age, genetics, fitness level, and other health issues), heat affects everyone differently, but certain groups should take extra precautions. People who are at a higher risk of heat-related illness include:

  • Senior citizens
  • People who do not regularly exercise
  • People who have pre-existing medical conditions, such as heart disease
  • People suffering from acute illnesses such as fevers and upper respiratory infections
  • Those who take certain medications, such as diuretics and COPD medications

If this describes you, you must exercise with extreme caution in hot weather. It is sometimes preferable to work out indoors with air conditioning.

3. Don't Forget to Hydrate Before Your Workout

Staying hydrated is important at any time of year, but it is especially important in hot weather. Drink more water two to three hours before exercising if possible. In addition to the 125 ounces (oz) and 91 oz of water that men and women should consume daily (according to the National Institute of Medicine Food and Nutrition Board), Olufade recommends six milliliters of water per kilogram of body mass before working out. Water is always an effective pre-workout beverage, but you can add electrolytes to your drink to increase hydration.

Pay attention to the color of your urine (and whether you're peeing as much as usual) to see if you're dehydrated. If you're hydrated, it should be clear rather than yellow, and you should pee as much as usual. 

4. Consume water to stay hydrated.

According to Julie Brown, RD, an American Council on Exercise (ACE)–certified personal trainer and dietitian with Life Time in Chanhassen, Minnesota, you can also increase your body's hydration level by eating water-rich foods throughout the day. Cucumbers and watermelon are examples of water-rich foods.

5. Don't overeat before you go.

Avoid eating a large meal before working out in the heat. "Food digestion requires energy," Brown explains. She explains that digestion raises body temperature and diverts blood flow away from the muscles you're working during exercise. When your body tries to digest food while also moving vigorously, digestive discomfort can occur, resulting in a disappointing workout.

6. Dress in Heat-Resistant Clothes

Wear clothing that allows your body heat to escape. "Loose-fitting, light-colored clothing is ideal for keeping the body cool," says Olufade. Look for lightweight, moisture-wicking fabrics, which are often synthetic (it should say so on the label).

7. Wear Sunscreen

Heat and humidity aren't the only issues to be concerned about in the summer. Sun exposure is the leading risk factor for skin cancer, so take precautions.

Apply sunscreen, preferably one with an SPF of at least 15, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. Apply two tablespoons to your entire body 30 minutes before going out. Reapply every two hours, according to the general rule, but if you're sweating, reapply every hour.

Consider wearing clothing with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF), which is similar to SPF but for clothes and hats. Wear sunglasses that, according to the American Academy of Optometry, block 99 to 100 percent of UVA and UVB rays and screen out 75 to 90 percent of visible light. Yes, you must protect your eyes from the sun as well!

8th. Transport Water (or Know Where to Find It During Your Workout)

If the temperature rises above 80 degrees F, bring water with you (or plan ahead of time where on your exercise route you can find some). According to ACE, you should drink 7 to 10 oz of water for every 10 to 20 minutes of exercise in the heat. If your workout will last longer than 60 minutes, consider adding an electrolyte supplement to your water (they help the body maintain fluid balance, which is important when you're exerting yourself and sweating a lot).

9. Avoid mid-day workouts.

"Depending on where you live and the time of year," Brown says, "the midday sun can add about 20 degrees to the temperature." As a result, midday is usually the hottest time of day.

If you're running, walking, or biking, take a shadier route whenever possible, and avoid the hottest times of day, which are usually between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

10. Keep an eye on the Air Quality Index (AQI)

Outdoor exercisers are increasingly concerned about air quality. "Air quality affects the exchange of oxygen in the lungs," Olufade explains, adding that people with asthma and allergies are more likely to have complications when exercising in poor air quality. "When the air quality is better, your body functions better."

So, when is the AQI (a tally of ozone, particle pollution, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide) too high to exercise outside? Brown claims that anything 50 or higher (check local forecasts or AirNow for your city's current air quality) can be hazardous to people with compromised health. Choose times of day with a lower AQI or change your plans by moving indoors or changing your intensity or duration.

11. Change Your Workout to Fit the Weather

Don't put off your most strenuous workouts for the hottest days. When the temperatures and humidity are high, reduce the intensity of your workout (opt for a lower-impact activity or a shorter workout).

Consider an activity that will allow you to take breaks to hydrate and allow your heart rate to drop, suggests Olufade. Brown recommends that if you belong to a gym, you do your warm-up and cool-down there to reduce your time in the heat.

According to the American College of Sports Medicine, the risk of heat-related injury increases when the temperature rises above 80 degrees Fahrenheit and the humidity exceeds 75%. In those circumstances, consider modifying your workout in one of the ways listed above.

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