Summer is a great time to get outside and stay active, but high temperatures and humidity mean that you have to take steps to protect yourself while exercising. It’s important to take precautions and listen to your body at all times in order to avoid heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Follow these tips to stay safe while running and exercising in hot weather.
Exercise when temperatures are lower. Before 7am and after 6pm are prime times for lower temperatures, less intense sunlight, and reduced humidity. They also fit conveniently into a before or after work schedule for most people. If you only have a block of time in the middle of the day, consider exercising indoors in a gym or at a pool.
Dress the part. If you’re outdoors exercising in the heat, you’ll need to dress appropriately. Wear lightweight clothing, preferably in a light color to deflect sunlight, and wear something short so that the heat generated from exercising can easily get away from the big muscles in your legs. Wear sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat if possible. If you’re doing an activity like cycling that requires a helmet, take it off during rest periods so that heat can escape from your head.
Stay hydrated. Drink 20 ounces of water a few hours before exercising, then 8 ounces right before you head outside. Bring water with you so that you can continue to take a few sips every 15 to 20 minutes while exercising. Drink more water or a sports drink when you’re done.
…All day. Hydration is important all day long, not just right before exercising. Gulping a gallon of water right before exercising won’t make up for not hydrating properly throughout the day; it’ll just make you uncomfortable. Drink water with each meal throughout the day. If your urine looks darker than lemonade, it means you’re dehydrated.
Be careful with medications. If you suffer from allergies and are taking a decongestant or antihistamine, this can accelerate dehydration. Expectorants, blood pressure medications, and anti-depressants can have the same effect. Even caffeine and alcohol can have a dramatic effect on your body’s hydration. Plan your activities accordingly.
Pace yourself. Don’t push yourself to achieve personal records or faster paces when it’s hot, and don’t try a grueling new activity that you’re not used to doing. Don’t compare yourself to others – just because someone else is more accustomed to the heat doesn’t mean that you should push past your limits to keep up with them.
Try to avoid direct sunlight. Plan a route that has some shade, or make sure there’s a shady place to rest. Before you head outside, make sure you know the UV index, heat index, and humidity, and adjust your activities to accommodate the actual temperature.
Watch for signs of heat exhaustion, like fatigue, weakness, nausea, dizziness, muscle cramps, and an increase in body temperature. Stop what you’re doing, get out of direct sunlight, lay down and elevate your feet, loosen or remove clothing as much as possible, and drink some cool water or a sports drink. You can also fan yourself or spray some cold water on yourself.
Temperatures above 104, an inability to sweat, acute respiratory distress, confusion, and loss of consciousness can be signs of heat stroke, which is much more severe than heat exhaustion and can lead to death. If you or someone else start experiencing these symptoms, call 911 immediately.