Today’s PSA: Exercise with caution in today’s inferno

Follow these tips for safe workouts in extreme heat.

It’s 93 degrees outside and is saying it feels like 97. So unless you’re training to run a marathon along the Equator, think seriously about canceling your outdoor run this evening, and take a rain check on that boot camp. Even at 6:30 this morning when I met my running group for a 5-miler, the heat was oppressive. I ended up walking home.

The Mayo Clinic offers these words of caution and advice (reprinted here) about hot weather workouts:

“Exercising in hot weather puts extra stress on your heart and lungs. Both the exercise itself and the air temperature increase your body temperature. To dissipate heat, more blood circulates through your skin. This leaves less blood for your muscles, which increases your heart rate. If the humidity is high, your body faces added stress because sweat doesn’t readily evaporate from your skin—which only pushes your body temperature higher.

Under normal conditions, your skin, blood vessels and perspiration level adjust to the heat. But these natural cooling systems may fail if you’re exposed to high temperatures and humidity for too long. The result may be a heat-related illness, such as heat cramps, heat exhaustion or heatstroke.”

To keep it cool during hot-weather exercise, keep these basic precautions in mind:

  • Take it slow. If you’re used to exercising indoors or in cooler weather, take it easy at first. As your body adapts to the heat, gradually increase the length and intensity of your workouts. If you have a chronic medical condition or take medication, ask your doctor if you need to take additional precautions.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. Your body’s ability to sweat and cool down depends on adequate re-hydration. Drink plenty of water while you’re working out—even if you don’t feel thirsty. If you’re planning to exercise intensely or for longer than one hour, consider sports drinks instead. These drinks can replace the sodium, chloride, and potassium you lose through sweating. Avoid drinks that contain caffeine or alcohol, which actually promote fluid loss.
  • Dress appropriately. Lightweight, loose-fitting clothing promotes sweat evaporation and cooling by letting more air pass over your body. Avoid dark colors, which can absorb the heat. A light-colored hat can limit your exposure to the sun.
  • Avoid midday sun. Exercise in the morning or evening—when it’s likely to be cooler outdoors—rather than the middle of the day. If possible, exercise in the shade or in a pool.
  • Wear sunscreen. A sunburn decreases your body’s ability to cool itself.
  • Have a backup plan. If you’re concerned about the heat or humidity, stay indoors. Work out at the gym, walk laps inside the mall or climb stairs inside an air-conditioned building.
  • Know when to call it quits. During hot-weather exercise, be on the lookout for heat-related illness. Signs and symptoms may include: weakness, headache, dizziness, muscle cramps, nausea or vomiting, or a rapid heartbeat.
  • If you suspect a heat-related illness, stop exercising and get out of the heat. Drink water, and wet and fan your skin. If you don’t feel better within 60 minutes, contact your doctor. If you develop a fever higher than 102 F (38.9 C) or become faint or confused, seek immediate medical help. Regular physical activity is important, but don’t let hot-weather workouts put your health at risk.

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