We are all familiar with the devastation and deaths associated with tornadoes, hurricanes and earthquakes. But did you know that summer heat is one of the leading weather-related killers in the United States, according to the National Weather Service? The CDC reports an average of 618 deaths per year from 1999 to 2010 that are related to summer heat. Because of these striking statistics, we should all consider practicing summer heat exercise safety measures.

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Heat Risks

When you are exposed to excessive heat, your body has natural mechanisms, such as sweat, that can help you cool. However, when you raise your body temperature too fast or you lose the ability to sweat because of dehydration, you increase your risk for developing a heat-related illness.  A heat-related illness can range from heat cramps to heat exhaustion to a more serious heat stroke, which can be life-threatening.

There are also other factors that can increase your risk for developing a heat-related illness:

  • age (younger adults and older adults)
  • obesity
  • fever
  • heart disease
  • poor circulation
  • prescription drug use
  • alcohol use

To reduce your risks, you must first talk to your doctor about how your medical problems or prescription drugs can affect your risk for having a heat-related illness. In addition, proper exercise warm up and hydration are of utmost importance before you battle the summer heat. This cannot be emphasized enough!

Signs and Symptoms of a Heat-Related Illness

To be able to recognize if you or someone you are outdoors with is developing a heat-related illness, The National Weather Service provides warning signs that you should be aware of:

  • painful muscle cramps
  • heavy sweating
  • cool clammy skin
  • weak pulse
  • weakness
  • lightheadedness
  • nausea
  • vomitingTabata training
  • fainting

More serious signs of a heat stroke include:

  • altered mental state
  • headache
  • confusion
  • shallow breathing
  • rapid pulse
  • possible unconsciousness

Heat-Related Illness Treatments

First of all, you should never hesitate to call 911 if you are concerned. If possible, you should always have a cell phone with you when exercising outdoors or alone.

Your next steps should be to try to cool down the body as much as possible. First, slow down and stop the activity and go to a shaded area or indoors as soon as possible. Next, you should loosen or remove clothing to allow your body to further cool. You can then apply a cold towel or use the EnduraCool Towel around your next to lower your body temperature. You may take sips of water if you can tolerate it. However, if vomiting occurs, stop drinking water and call 911.

If any signs or symptoms of a heat stroke are seen or felt, call 911 immediately.

How to Exercise in the Heat

A heat-related illness can be prevented when exercising outdoors if you take the proper measures.

  1. Exercise early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Reschedule your runs or outdoor activity for early morning or late afternoon hours when the day’s heat is not at it’s peak. Which is best between the morning or afternoon? The answer — whatever works best for you. Choose the time that you like and fits in with your schedule.
  2. Hydrate during the 24 hours before your workout routine. You must be well  hydrated many hours before your workout routine to ensure that the proper amount of fluid is available in your blood stream and sweat glands to help you sweat effectively. During one hour of exercise, the body can lose up to a quart of water, states the American Council on Exercise. In addition to pre-hydrating your body you should 1) drink two cups of water 2-3 hours before your workout routine; 2) drink one cup during your warm up; 3) drink one cup for every 10-20 minutes of exercise; 4) drink one additional cup during your first 30 minutes of exercise; 5) and drink 2-3 cups for every pound lost after your workout routine. If you can’t remember these guideline, just simply remember to take a few sips of water between each workout set or every few minutes during your run or bike.
  3. Warm up. As pointed out by The National Weather Service, heating your body too fast can put you at risk for developing a heat-related illness. Your body needs a few minutes to stimulate sweat glands and other cooling processes before you get into the thick of your workout routine.
  4. Wear the proper clothing. Fortunately, fitness apparel companies are recognizing the importance designing clothing made to keep you cool. I particularly favor Under Armour HeatGear Compression shirts because the shirt acts as a wick that helps remove sweat from your skin, which keeps you cool and dry. However, there are many fitness shirts on the marker, but try to choose shirts that have similar wick-like properties. Avoid cotton shirts, because sweat does not evaporate well from these shirts and they tend to become hot and heavy.
  5. Get acclimated. You have to ease into your outdoor workouts when temperatures are trending up. You may have to decrease the duration and intensity of your workout routines until your body is comfortable exercising in the heat. Take your time, stay consistent and you will adapt.
  6. Use common sense. If it feels to hot, then it is too hot! If you feel unusually tired and weak from your outdoor workout routine, then you need to rest and cool down. The beginning of the summer season is not the time to break personal records! Listen to your body and you will be safe.

What do you do to stay cool while exercising in the summer heat? Share your thoughts below!