Exercising in the heat

August 10, 2012

It is cooling off, but it is still timely to consider how to exercise in the hot days of the year.

Heat illness is dangerous. It is among the top three causes of athlete death. When the body is not used to the heat it cannot adequately cool itself. Think of the body as being in an oven. The environment cooks you. When the core reaches 104 you are approaching very dangerous territory.

The body cools itself like a car. The car has a radiator to cool the engine and prevent overheating. The body has similiar mechanisms. The body directs blood to the skin so that it can remove the heat in the engine (the core). The body sweats to provide a cooling effect as well. As the sweat evaporates it cools the body.

Nothing says cool though like a nice cold beverage. When exercising in the heat you want to always have cool water nearby so that you can cool the inside and replace fluids lost from sweat during exercise. Some people prefer a sports drink, which is fine, but water should be the first beverage tapped into. Sports drinks provide sugar and sodium that the body uses in longer lasting exercise (>1 hour).

The best thing that you can do in preventing heat illness is to be adjusted to exercising in hot temperatures. Heat acclimatization can take 14 days and it is recommended that you gradually increase activity during those 14 days. Sports with equipment should work into the equipment gradually as well. The use of equipment makes it very difficult for the body to release sweat and heat effectively.

Two-a-days is the normal fall initiation. This practice is dangerous because of the inability of some individuals to acclimate to the heat. The first 5 days should be single day practices and a single practice day should follow any double practice day during the acclimatization perdiod. Some states have adopted these recommendations and are protecting athletes according to current recommendations.

After exercising in the heat it is important to find a cool place to rest. If you do not sleep in an cool environment then you are starting off in an elevated temperature state. You are placing yourself at greater risk for heat illness.

There are different presentations of heat illness. Heat cramps are seen in especially sodium deficient individuals who have been exercising in hot environment. These are painful and require rehydration and electrolyte replacement. Heat syncope is seen in the first week of heat acclimatization and is more common in those with cardiac conditions and on certain medications. Heat exhaustion is when an athlete can no longer continue due to overheating. This is essentially your car has overheated and is not acting right. This condition can very easily turn into heat stroke. Heat stroke is an emergency condition in which the core body temperature has exceeded 104 degrees. Rapid cooling must take place in order to transport them safely.

There are risk factors associated with heat illness. Hot and humid environment is the biggest cause and risk factor. It is essentially the foundation for all heat illness. Those that are overweight, out of shape, or not acclimated to the heat are susceptible. Those that are dehydrated or have depleted electrolytes are at risk as well. Wearing equipment, like in football, places the person at risk for heat illness because body surface area is further insulated. Illness and medication can place individuals at risk because of dehydration or elevated temperature. Light, breathable clothing should be worn to allow air movement and to reduce the heat absorption.

Be safe in the heat and follow the guidelines. If you are feeling hot you need to move indoors. When possible choose a cool part of the day to exercise and you will be thankful.


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