Beat the Heat: Safely Exercising in the Summer

Even though Pennsylvania is in the northern part of the United States, its inhabitants experience all of the seasons, including a scalding summer. So how can you run your morning mile without doing your body more harm than good?

There are two major health concerns when working out in hot weather: overheating and dehydration.

Summers in Pennsylvania tend to be humid. Sweat is the body’s natural cooling system, but humidity doesn’t allow sweat to evaporate, leading to overheating. Sweating excessively means there is less fluid in your blood, which causes the blood to thicken and makes the heart work harder to pump blood throughout your body. If you experience overheating symptoms, including an increase in heart rate, excessive fatigue, irregular or skipped heartbeats, and lightheadedness, drink cool water and move to a spot with air conditioning or shade.

Excessive sweating while working out can lead to dehydration, which happens in three stages.

  • Heat cramps: Cramping in the calves or abdomen caused by a loss of sodium from muscle cells
  • Heat exhaustion: Fatigue and weakness leading to dizziness, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, and unsteadiness caused by high temperatures and no fluid replacement
  • Heatstroke (medical emergency): Loss of balance while standing, confusion or disorientation, and bizarre behavior. The body can no longer sweat

Here are ways to safely exercise in high temperatures:

Stay hydrated. You need to replace the fluids you’re sweating out. Always maintain access to water, and take breaks to drink it. Water is the best option, but sports drinks that are high in electrolytes can also rehydrate you during the workout. The key is to drink before and throughout your workout.

Dress appropriately. Look at the weather before you go out. If it’s above 75 degrees, you’ll sweat no matter what you’re wearing. Light, loose-fitting clothes made of synthetic fabrics (polyester, nylon, etc.) are the best for working out in heat.

Know your medical history and prescriptions. Certain conditions and prescription medications increase the risk factors for heat-related illnesses. Talk to your doctor, and plan your workout around any special considerations.

Get acclimated. If you typically work out inside with air conditioning, don’t push yourself too hard the first couple of times you take your exercise outside. Heat causes more fatigue and requires more regular hydration to avoid complications. It can take one to two weeks to adjust, so slowly increase the intensity of your workout only to the point where you feel comfortable. Pushing yourself could step you back rather than bump you forward.