Exercising in the Heat: 10 Tips for Staying Cool

Jan 12, 2010 | fitness

Editors Note: This post is written by Lisa Spooner, aspiring trainer and one of the fittest Brits in Australia! Running mad and aiming to do her first marathon in 2010.

Did you know we have just experienced our hottest decade on record? While many of us love the heat, training in hot and humid conditions can have serious repercussions. What are the effects of training in the heat and what are the signs and symptoms of heat illnesses??

Anyone exercising in hot conditions are prone to heat illnesses. Conditions such as heat stroke and heat exhaustion are common, especially if you are unfamiliar with the warning signs. The key to avoiding them? Recognize the symptoms and follow the basic guidelines!

What are the main types of heat illnesses?

Heat cramps: are severe cramps often felt in the legs and or abdomen during prolonged exercise. They are the least severe of the three heat illnesses and are usually caused by imbalances or deficiencies in your body’s electrolyte stores resulting from heavy sweating. When sodium in particular falls to a certain level the incidents of heat cramps increase. To treat; rest quietly in the shade and drink plenty of fluids which contain electrolytes. Use cool towels to cool the skin, and gently massage the cramping muscle. Hold the cramp in a stretched position until the pain stops. If the pain doesn’t subside within an hour seek medical advice. As well as following the basic guidelines to preventing heat illness you can also avoid heat cramps by stretching regularly before and after exercise in particular the calf, hamstring and quadriceps muscles.

Heat exhaustion: is more serious and is again caused from not replacing lost fluids during prolonged exercise, which can result in dizziness and weakness. Heat exhaustion is characterized by a moderate rise in body temperature, nausea, vomiting and headaches. You might also experience lack of coordination, heat cramps, heavier than usual sweating, accompanied by moist and cold skin. Your heart rate may rise and you won’t be able to run as fast due to fatigue.

If you experience any of these symptoms whilst training this summer stop running immediately. Drink fluids containing electrolytes, cool your body with wet towels, lie down, elevate your feet a few inches above your heart, and immediately get out of the sun. Since heat exhaustion can lead to the most severe form of heat-related illness, heat stroke; seeking prompt medical attention for heat exhaustion is also highly recommended. More severely exhausted patients may need IV fluids, especially if vomiting keeps them from drinking enough.

Heat stroke: is the most severe heat illness and unlike heat exhaustion, can strike suddenly and with very little warning. Usually the body is able to cool itself effectively though sweating, but when exercising in hot humid conditions the body’s cooling system can fail, resulting in heat stroke. If you become dehydrated, the body can no longer provide the water required to sweat, as a result the skin feels dry to touch as sweating depletes and causes the body to rapidly overheat. High humidity can also prevent sweat from evaporating, again reducing the bodies ability to cool. Blood vessels dilate, making the skin red and gradually the raised body temperature will affect the nervous system and hence produce slurred speech, confusion and disorientation.

Heat stroke can be life threatening so knowing the symptoms are crucial so you can look after yourself and others when training in the heat.

Signs of heat stroke include a body temperature of around 40 degrees, hot, dry skin, lack of sweating, fast pulse, confusion, and possible loss of consciousness, fatigue and hallucinations. If left untreated Heat stoke can lead to seizures, comas or can even be fatal. Therefore victims of heat stroke must receive immediate treatment to avoid permanent possible damage to internal organs and systems.

To treat call the emergency services and cool the body immediately. Position yourself in the shade and remove as much clothing as possible. Apply cool or tepid water to the skin, and if possible submerge yourself in a pool or have a shower. Fan the victim to promote sweating and evaporation, and place ice packs under armpits and groins. Monitor body temperature with a thermometer and continue cooling efforts until the body temperature drops to 38.3-38.8°C.

10 Tips for preventing heat related illnesses

The Good News? Heat illness’s are easier to prevent than to treat so when you’re out training keep in mind these simple guidelines!

  1. Pre-Hydrate: By the time you are thirsty you are already dehydrated so be sure to take on board plenty of fluid prior, during and post exercise which contain electrolytes. Drink often and be sure to replace fluid lost though sweating. Monitor the colour of your urine to make sure you are still hydrated. 2 liters of fluid can be lost in sweat every hour in a hot environment, so unless you are drinking water at the same rate, you will dehydrate and then stop sweating.
  2. Train early/late: Avoid intense exercise during the hottest time of day; train closer to sunrise or sunset.
  3. Lower Intensity: Think about reducing the intensity or duration of your exercise in hot conditions
  4. Buddy-up: Train with a buddy where possible. (They may pick up symptoms quicker!)
  5. Dress Cool: Wear light, loose clothing so sweat can evaporate. Better yet, invest in some clothes that wick. My favorite is the climacool garments from adidas. Addidas can be a bit on the pricey side so try other brands such as New Balance which have a cheaper range.
  6. Slip Slop Slap: Use sunscreen to prevent sunburn and wear a cap if you can– protect your head!
  7. Listen to your body: If you feel your exercise performance is suffering, stop activity and try to cool off.
  8. No Diuretics: Sorry no alcohol or beverages with caffeine before exercise because they increase the rate of dehydration!
  9. Acclimatize: Get used to hotter climates slowly
  10. Look out for symptoms: If any symptoms of heat illness appear, stop exercise immediately so they don’t worsen. Remember, it is easier to prevent heat illness than to treat it once symptoms develop. Look out for signs such as confusion, irritability, fatigue, light headiness, chills and in coordination.

After reading these guidelines, carefully consider how the heat will affect you and your training especially if you are likely to take part in prolonged activity in the sun. Be sure to look after those bodies and enjoy training outdoors. Do you have any heat illness stories or remedies to share?

Editors Note: This post is written by Lisa Spooner, aspiring trainer and one of the fittest Brits in Australia! Running mad and aiming to do her first marathon in 2010.


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