Sunday, August 5, 2012

Exercising Safely in the Heat

The Pacific Northwest is no stranger to clouds, fog, and the ever-present rain.  So when the sun comes out,  everyone runs out of their houses ready to soak up some vitamin D.  And while we all want to soak up as much of the sun as possible, it is important to protect our bodies from extreme exposure to the heat.  Because we have such a temperate climate most of the year, it is easy to forget how hard extreme heat is on our bodies.  With the abundance of hiking, biking, and running trails, staying inside during when of our rare sunny days may seem like sacrilege  But overexposure to the heat can be painful and even dangerous for our bodies.

Yesterday, even though it got up to 102 degrees here in Portland, I couldn't resist going on a long run and taking in the beautiful weather.  But I also know that I can be somewhat of a wimp when it comes to tolerating extreme temperatures.  So I did what came most naturally to me: got on Google and researched ways to stay safe exercising in the heat.  :)  What would we do without Google?!  Looking at a few sites, I came up with some great tips for exercising safely in the heat:
  1. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate!: My little brother and I always tell our dad, when it gets hot out, you need to stay hydrated.  And research confirms how important it is to hydrate during the summer, especially when you are working out.  After looking at an article on Webmd, I learned that you need at least 20 ounces of water two hours before you exercise, 8 ounces when you get back, and sips of water at least every 15-20 minutes during your workout.  So it is really important to pack a water bottle, bring your hydration pack, or.....
  2. Plan Your Route:  Whether you are hiking, biking, running, or walking, you need to plan the route you take according to the weather.  If the temperature is going to reach extreme highs, make sure that there are places with shade, places to stop and rest, and drinking fountains along the way if you are not packing your own water.  When I went on my run yesterday, I planned our a route that I knew had a drinking fountain for every mile that I ran. (My running water bottle is buried in the basement :()  It is also a good idea, if you are prone to dehydration, to pick a route where, if you start to feel the symptoms of dehydration or heat stroke, you can easily get back to your house, car, or you have cell-phone service to call someone in an emergency.
  3. Listen to Your Body:  While most people who workout like to push themselves in some way or another, it is important always important to listen to your body to know when to stop.  This is especially true in the summer heat.  If you start experiencing any symptoms of heat stroke during your exercise, you need to stop and get help.  The symptoms include
    • Nausea
    • Fatigue
    • Dizziness
    • Weakness
    • Muscle Cramps
    • Loss of Consciousness
  4. Choose Appropriate Attire: While this might seem obvious, it is important to choose your clothes wisely when you are going to exercise in temperatures in the 90's. Wear lightweight fabrics that breathe well and absorb your sweat and wear clothes that are lighter in color.  It is also important not to over-dress.  Exercising in extreme heat is not the time to be worried about what your legs look like in shorts.  Covering up too much causes your muscles to retain more heat and your body temperature to rise.  
  5. Exercise Early or Late: As much as you may want to be out in the sun, choosing the right time of day to exercise is important.  During the early morning hours or after 6:00pm are the best times to work out when the temperatures are going to be high.  You'll feel more productive and you'll get a better workout than if you workout if the mid-afternoon heat.
Remember, these are just tips that I found in my own research.  If you are concerned in any way about your workout, talk to your doctor.  

If you have good summer workout tips, feel free to leave them in the comments section!

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