Don’t let the heat beat you down

With these 9 tips for preventing heat-related illness, your summertime workouts will do you good, not wring you out.
Stay hydrated, acclimate yourself, and beat the heat during your summertime workouts. (For Spectrum Health Beat)
Stay hydrated, acclimate yourself, and beat the heat during your summertime workouts. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

It’s summer in Michigan, the season to get outside—and for many, the season to step up their fitness routine.

Which is a good plan: Everyone can benefit from being more active.

But if your workouts are taking you out into the heat and humidity, remember to fend off heat-related illnesses as you’re burning off calories.

To dig up some expert insights and tips on exercising in the summertime, Health Beat talked with Ranae Hoeft, a wellness coordinator for Priority Health.

Top tips to avoid overheating during your workouts:

1. Read your body

“Listen to how your body’s reacting during exercise out in the heat,” Hoeft said.

If you’re getting muscle cramps or you feel weak or dizzy, stop exercising right away and get cooled down. If you don’t, you could end up with heat exhaustion or even heat stroke, which can cause brain damage and death.

“Here in Michigan in the summer we have to pay special attention to the humidity,” Hoeft added. “Humidity doesn’t allow our sweat to evaporate as easily, so we’re storing that heat inside of our bodies, in our core, and it’s harder for us to bring our body temperature down.”

2. Stay hydrated

“Drink plenty of water, especially if you know you’re going to be exercising in the heat,” Hoeft said. “This is the best way to prevent heat-related illnesses.”

Start hydrating a few days before a big workout, and drink at least 20 ounces of water a few hours before. Then have another glass 30 to 60 minutes before the workout, and hydrate periodically while exercising. Replenish your body with a sports drink after the workout.

“You’re losing electrolytes from sweat, so a sports drink can help replace the sodium and potassium,” she said.

3. Wear light, breathable clothing

Choose fabrics that wick away perspiration and dry quickly, Hoeft said.

Clothes made from lightweight “performance” fabrics will help your body cool off as you exercise. And avoid wearing black, which absorbs more light and heat than white or light colors.

4. Acclimate yourself

If you exercise year round, give your body time to adjust to changes in climate.

“It can take 10 to 15 days to really get used to the weather, so if you’re used to exercising inside, gradually work up your time and intensity outdoors,” Hoeft said.

5. Exercise in the morning or evening

It’s best to avoid working out in the middle of the day, when the heat risks are greatest. But if you have to be out in the heat of the day, take lots of breaks.

“Summer is the time for sports camps for high schoolers,” Hoeft said. “Many get into football, where they’re wearing all the equipment and they’re exercising in the midday. In those instances we really need to make sure that when they have a break they take their helmet off, take their pads off and let their body breathe and cool down.”

6. Adjust your workout to the day

“On hot, humid days you’re not going to be able to go 100 percent—you won’t be able to do as intense a workout as you might like,” Hoeft said.

So make adjustments. This might mean going to the gym, where it’s cooler and less humid.

7. Avoid caffeine and alcohol before exercising

“Alcohol and caffeine are dehydrators,” Hoeft said, “so we definitely need to avoid them before exercising. Focus more on water or sports drinks.”

Avoid sugary sodas for the same reason.

8. Consider your health conditions and medications

If you’re on medications or have a medical condition, it’s always important to talk to your doctor before working out, especially in the heat.

9. Protect yourself from the sun

“This might not be something you think about when you go out for a run,” Hoeft said. “So you throw on a tank top and shorts, but you forget to wear a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen.”

Of course, exercising in the shade is a great option if it fits your workout.

Have heat-beating tips of your own? Share them in the comments below.

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