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Avoid heat-related Illnesses while exercising outdoors

Woman standing outside rests during exercise

Even moderate amounts of physical exertion in warmer weather can result in heat exhaustion

Staying active during the summer months is important, but too much exposure to heat while exercising can be damaging. Any physical activity that involves physical exertion may be dangerous in the heat due to an elevated body temperature. When temperatures reach upwards of 90 degrees, it’s possible to get overheated just walking a few blocks.

How heat affects your body

Hot weather puts extra stress on your body. When exercising in the heat, the body sends more blood to circulate through your skin, leaving less blood in your muscles and increasing your heart rate and body temperature. Sweating is your body’s way of cooling off, but if it is humid, sweat doesn’t evaporate from your skin as quickly and sometimes not at all. 

Together, this can lead to an increased risk of heat-related Illnesses if not adequately treated. 

  • Heat rash: A skin irritation that turns your skin red, itchy, or tingly. Small bumps or blisters may form on your skin where it touches other skin, especially your neck, groin, underneath your breasts, armpits or the creases of your elbows. 
  • Heat cramps: Painful, involuntary muscle spasms resulting from fluid and electrolyte loss. It often occurs with people who sweat a lot during strenuous activity. 
  • Heat exhaustion: Occurs when your core body temperature rises above its regular 98.6º F and is having trouble cooling itself. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, weakness, dizziness and more.
  • Heatstroke: Occurs when your body reaches temperatures above 104º F. Symptoms include headaches, no sweating, rapid breathing, loss of consciousness and more. 

Those most at risk include older adults 65+, children 4 and younger, outdoor workers and those with certain chronic illnesses or disabilities. Whether they are active outdoors or not, it’s a good idea to check on vulnerable neighbors and friends during hot temperatures. 

Safe workouts in the heat

According to Matt Nipper, MS RECP of Cardiopulmonary Rehab at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center in Vancouver, Washington, there are simple steps everyone can take to ensure you stay healthy while being active and exercising outdoors. Most heat illnesses are preventable with the proper precautions. 

  • Avoid peak heat hours: Ensure you exercise earlier in the morning or later in the day to avoid the warmest hours of the day, 11a.m. to 3 p.m. 
  • Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of water before and throughout your workout. Research recommends consuming between 16 to 24 ounces before you start, at least 8 ounces when finished, and several gulps every 10 to 15 minutes while exercising. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink water. 
  • Start easy: Gradually acclimate yourself to exercising in hot environments and try not to push yourself too hard when the temperatures are high; your body gets tired quicker in the heat.
  • Dress appropriately: Wear light and breathable clothing. Synthetic fabrics readily absorb sweat and allow for evaporation, while light colors, such as white, reflect heat better than others. 
  • Pay attention to your body: Symptoms of heat exhaustion include dizziness, intense thirst, nausea, muscle cramps and excessive sweating. 
  • Protect your skin: Apply a minimum of SPF 30 every two hours.

Act quickly against heat exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is a moderate to severe form of heat illness that can develop after several days of exposure to high temperatures and inadequate hydration. Other signs include dizziness, intense thirst, excessive sweating, nausea or vomiting, and a rapid, weak pulse. If you are experiencing heat exhaustion, move to a cooler, air-conditioned place and lie down. Take a cold shower or use cold compresses. Remove tight-fitting clothes and hydrate with water or sports drinks. 

If left untreated, heat exhaustion may lead to heatstroke. Heatstroke is the most severe heat-related illness and requires immediate medical attention. Symptoms of heat stroke include headaches, no sweating, rapid breathing, racing pulse, and unconsciousness. If someone is experiencing heatstroke, call 911 and try to cool them while waiting for EMTs to arrive. 

Remember, heat-related illnesses are largely preventable. If the summer heat is too challenging for your standard high-intensity workout, break it up into multiple, small workouts throughout the day. Take precautions and enjoy a safe summer outdoors. 

Sources: CDC and Cleveland Clinic