How To Stay Safe in the Summer Heat [Body Blog]
Record temperatures have been sweeping across the country all summer long, leaving everyone a little hot and bothered… and not for the best reasons. For older people and those with certain medical conditions, the heat presents a serious risk. At least 52 people have died due to hot temperatures so far this summer. But for the majority of us young, active people, heat waves don’t pose a serious threat. Or so we think.
The heat might not be a big deal when you’re just walking around, but when you’re exercising in these conditions, it’s important to take care of yourself. If the air conditioned gym is your scene, then you probably don’t have too much to worry about. But if you’re indulging in the summer sun (which I hope you are!), there are some steps you should take to protect yourself from heat-related medical issues. So whether you’re planning a long day at the beach or an outdoor workout, keep these tips in mind so that your day will be nothing but fun.
1. Know the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Keep a lookout for these symptoms in yourself and your workout partners:
- Muscle cramps
- Dark-colored urine
- Profuse sweating
- Pale skin
- Rapid heartbeat
These are the signs of heat exhaustion. If you think you might be experiencing heat exhaustion, get out of the sun and get some rest immediately. If your symptoms don’t improve within 30 minutes, call a doctor. Heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke, which is a medical emergency.
2. Stay hydrated AND eat. Yes, you know that you need to drink water. Staying hydrated is important during any kind of exercise, and it’s vital in hot conditions. But drinking water is only part of the equation. In hotter conditions, you sweat more, which means that you lose electrolytes as well as water. Electrolytes are chemicals like sodium and potassium, which are essential to basic bodily functions. Loss of electrolytes is one of the major contributing factors to heat-related illnesses, so it’s important to replace what you’re sweating out. Lots of sports drinks advertise that they contain electrolytes, and they do. But most of those drinks actually contain way more sugar and sodium than you really need unless you’re doing very high intensity exercise. So instead, snack on foods high in electrolytes like cheese, crackers, bananas or coconut water.
3. Start slow. Allow your body to get acclimated to the heat. Don’t try to do much too soon – if you gradually increase the intensity of your exercise, your body will be able to manage the heat more effectively. And know that you won’t be performing at your personal best on hot days. That’s normal, so don’t stress!
4. Wear sunscreen. A sunburn decreases your body’s ability to cool itself, so lather up!
5. Avoid the midday sun. It’s summer, and you should take advantage of the gorgeous weather outside. But stay safe by exercising in the morning or evening, not the hottest part of the day.
6. Wear lightweight and light colored clothing. With this extreme heat, now might be the time to invest in some fancy, moisture-wicking clothes. They’ll help keep you dry and cool. Wear light colors to reflect the sun, instead of dark colors that will absorb heat.
7. Know your fitness level. The more fit you are, the better your body will be able to handle the stress of heat. If you’re starting a new exercise regimen, take it easy.
8. Stay away from caffeine and alcohol. Sad, but true. Both caffeine and alcohol increase your chances of serious dehydration.
Garnet is a student at Columbia University in New York City. She is “that person” who starts dancing at a party when everyone else is standing around, and if there were a Facebook stalking Olympics, she would be a gold medalist. She also loves cheesy 90s music, and almost died of happiness when Vanilla Ice retweeted her. Once. Follow her on Twitter @garnethenderson.