I don’t know what’s going on in your neck of the woods, but here in the South it is hot.
Like, steamy, humid, almost take-your-breath-away hot.
Last week, an elderly man in my old hometown passed away from heatstroke. He left his home after breakfast to go to the woods near his house and pick berries. Not an insanely strenuous workout, but his age and dress (he was wearing pants and long sleeves to avoid sunburn and bee stings) combined with the scorching temperatures were too much for him.
I started thinking about how dangerous the heat can be; how quickly heat exhaustion and heatstroke can sneak up on us during otherwise normal everyday activities.
What about those of us who prefer exercising outside when the weather allows it (i.e. when it’s not snowing, hailing, or thunderstorming!)? How can we protect ourselves? Sure, we can head to the gym and hit the treadmill (and frankly, sometimes that’s going to be the best option), but are there ways we can safely workout outdoors.
5 Tips for Exercising Outside in the Summer
1. Pay Attention to Your Medications.
Because they can affect your body’s ability to regulate its temperature and stay hydrated, certain medications can contribute to heat exhaustion and heatstroke (see below). Be mindful if you take medicines taken to treat:
- High blood pressure and heart problems (like diuretics and beta blockers).
- Allergy symptoms (like antihistamines).
- Nerves and psychiatric symptoms (like tranquilizers, antidepressants, and antipsychotics).
Of course, illegal drugs like cocaine and amphetamines can increase your core temperature, too.
2. Choose the Coolest Time of Day.
Generally, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. is the hottest time of the day, but we know that heat and humidity can last well into the late afternoon and evening. Try to exercise early in the morning, but if you can’t swing morning, shoot for evening when the sun has mostly gone down and stick to safe areas that are well lit.
3. Adjust Your Workout to the Temperature.
No brainer here. When the heat sneaks up on you, opt for a brisk walk, swim, or bike ride instead of a run or intense game of basketball.
4. Wear Lighter Workout Clothes.
Choose loose and light-colored clothing to encourage a breeze and reflect heat. Some experts suggest workout clothes made of wicking materials that draw moisture away from your skin.
5. Stay Hydrated All Day.
Obviously you want to keep a water bottle with you and stay hydrated throughout your workout, but it’s just as important to stay hydrated before and after your workout, too.
However, don’t drink too much! There is such as thing as overhydration and it can lead to hyponatremia, which is a low level of sodium in your blood as a result of excess fluid in your body.
Drink lots of water during exercise, but during the rest of the day make sure you’re staying appropriately hydrated by drinking when your thirsty and keeping an eye on your urine (pale yellow is good to go!).
On the Lookout: Warning Signs of Heat Exhaustion & Heatstroke
Heat exhaustion and heatstroke are the two most dangerous kinds, so take your outdoor workout preparation a step further by understanding the warning signs — and what to do if you suspect you’re experiencing either syndrome.
Heat exhaustion is a result of your body overheating and is brought on by high temperatures, especially when combined with high humidity and physical activity. Heat exhaustion symptoms include:
- Cool, damp skin with goose bumps (even in the heat).
- Heavier-than-normal sweating.
- Dizziness and fatigue.
- Weak, fast pulse and low blood pressure.
- Muscle cramps, nausea, and fatigue.
Heat exhaustion is both preventable and treatable, but it can lead to a heatstroke if you don’t handle it quickly.
If you suspect heat exhaustion symptoms creeping on, stop what you’re doing, find a cool place to rest, and hydrate. If the symptoms don’t stop — or if they get worse — within an hour, head to the hospital. You’re at risk for heatstroke.
Heatstroke is the most serious of the heat-related syndromes and can result in brain damage and death. Heatstroke occurs when your body temperature becomes 104 F (40 C) or higher. Aside from a high body temperature, heatstroke symptoms include:
- Flushed, red skin.
- Racing heart.
- Headache, possibly throbbing.
- Fast breathing.
- Hot, dry skin (if heatstroke is brought on by hot weather).
- Moist, hot skin (if heatstroke is brought on by physical activity).
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Changes in mental state and behavior (such as confusion and delirium, slurred speech, agitation and irritability, seizures and coma).
Like heat exhaustion, heatstroke is preventable; however, once you notice the symptoms, it’s time to get help — immediately. If you’re able, get yourself to a cool location, remove as many clothes as you can, and call 911. If possible, try to cool your body by getting in a tub of cool water, wrap cool towels around your head and body, place ice packs around your neck, armpits, and groin, or mist yourself with cool water in front of a fan.
How are you staying safe out there this summer?