The heat is on! Before you head outdoors into the sun, humidity, and smog, learn how to exercise safely to avoid overexertion during the dog days of summer.
Summer is here! Don’t let summer smog and sweltering temperatures stop you from getting a great workout while staying safe. Know your weather, plan for heat, and sweat in safety.
During the winter we put in our time on the Stairmaster whilst smirking at the snow, left our share of tread on the mill while grimacing at the pounding rain, and even grunted out the last few reps of a set of squats while bah-humbugging the winter doldrums of the world outside. But now the season we live for is here.
However, just like winter, summer is not without its dangers. Exercising incorrectly in the summer heat can lead to serious concerns such as dehydration, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke (which is considered to be a medical emergency). To enjoy the finest fitness and activities summer has to offer, plan ahead for the temperatures, know your timelines, and simply read on!
Although we can be tempted to throw on our running shoes and bolt outside for a jog in the sunshine whenever motivation strikes, it’s important to plan ahead—especially in the summer.
When exercising in the heat, our portable water bottles will definitely come in handy. However, if we don’t hydrate for a couple of hours prior to our outdoor sweat sessions, we’re already behind.
The following are some simple guidelines to observe for proper pre-, during, and post-exercise hydration in the heat: consume 3 cups (750 mL) of a noncaffeinated fluid two hours before exercise and 2 to 4 cups (500 mL to 1 L) every hour during exercise. Also make sure to replenish fluids lost during exercise, so if you weigh yourself before and after, you should aim to equal the same weight. Keep in mind that these are general guidelines; each individual is slightly different and may have slightly different requirements.
Choose your workout gear wisely
If you typically opt for a skin-tight, dry-fit, thermal spandex top, you may want to reconsider. On hot and smoggy days, wear loose, breathable clothing that permits ventilation and cooling. Cotton and bamboo are both lightweight, breathable fabrics. Also, choose light-coloured clothing when possible.
Trouble in paradise
When our workouts are underway and we’re feeling fantastic and “in the zone,” it can be tempting to overexert ourselves. Even in the heat, it’s entirely possible to feel energized enough that you decide to push yourself to try something new and challenging. However, you may want to think twice about the few rounds of lunges with a twist, bench dips with a hip lift, and push-ups you’re thinking of trying out.
Symptoms of overexertion
During a summer workout, feeling hot, physically exhausted, and a little light-headed likely isn’t just feeling the benefits of fitness, but rather feeling the effects of overexertion and possible heatstroke or sun stroke.
Other signs that you have pushed too hard, too fast in the hot summer sun include
- loss of ability to regain your breath
- elevated pulse that doesn’t recover
- dry mouth
- extreme thirst
- decreased urination, or very dark-coloured urine
Although cessation of sweat production can be a sign of heatstroke, it is not always a good indicator, as some forms of heatstroke are accompanied by sweating. Furthermore, general heat exhaustion can also be accompanied by heavy sweating.
What to do
In all cases of overexertion, stop exercising immediately, find a shady area (or if nearby, a cool building), and sit or lie down and rehydrate as soon as possible. If you still feel faint, discombobulated, or at all “off,” be sure to check in at your nearest walk-in clinic to make sure everything is okay.
The fine print of summer sweat
Before you become scared of working out hard, working out outside, or even leaving your home, you should be aware that I am a huge advocate of outdoor workouts; they can be much preferable to a smelly, humid gym any day of the week.
In fact, a recent study of highly trained athletes documented better results in those who were heat-acclimatized and working out in the heat than their gym-going counterparts. This is because blood volume increases, allowing the heart to pump more blood to our muscles, ultimately creating a stronger muscle contraction.
Other benefits of exercising outside include the vitamin D our skin can absorb, a refreshing change of scenery, and best of all, a free venue to get our sweat on!
Of course, there are some important things to be mindful of when exercising al fresco, namely, the potential to overheat, the potential for sunburn, and a greater potential for overexhaustion. In order to protect yourself from sunburns, be sure to follow proper sun safety by covering up or wearing natural sunscreen, and avoiding the sun during hours when it is at its strongest.
The verdict? Push yourself, but not at the expense of health.
Extra tips to keep you safe
- Those with a health concern should consult their health care practitioner before engaging in exercise in the heat.
- Try to limit physically strenuous activity to an hour at a time when out in the heat and sun. If you are out playing soccer, beach volleyball, or any other field or beach sport, get in a 15-minute break at least every 45 minutes to an hour to hydrate, cool off, and reapply sunscreen if necessary.
- When it becomes too hot to go outside, consider an indoor activity such as yoga, running stairs, an in-home workout, swimming, or Pilates.
- The sun is usually at its hottest between 11 am and 4 pm, so try to plan activities where you will be exposed for a long period of time in the mornings or evenings. Also be aware of the current Air Quality Health Index and factor this into your workout plans.
- Don’t be hard on yourself in the heat by expecting the same performance you would normally be capable of in cooler weather, or an air-conditioned gym. It’s also best to hold off on trying a new activity or exercise in the heat.
- Avoid alcohol or caffeinated beverages in the heat, as they can contribute to dehydration.
- Your body can adapt (or acclimatize) to exercising in hot weather over a period of about one or two weeks. Gradually, your heart rate will become lower and it will be easier for your body to maintain its internal temperature, and you will find that you can increase the duration and intensity of your exercise.
- If you live for the summer and plan on spending every moment you can out there until the clouds of fall return, consider visiting your local health and nutrition store to gain advice on what liquids and solids will keep you hydrated, safe, and energized.