The summer is one of the best seasons for outdoor exercising. The sun and the clear skies always seem so much more inviting than the cold, grey winter and the rows of treadmills in the sweaty gym. But as the mercury rises, road warriors and park joggers begin to put themselves at risk for heat-related illnesses.
The Centers for Disease Control estimates that around 300 people die every year from heat-related illnesses. While the majority of those affected will be the elderly, many more people will suffer from heat stroke and heat exhaustion. The CDC warns, "People suffer heat-related illness when their bodies are unable to compensate and properly cool themselves."
Heat stroke occurs when your body is unable to effectively cool off. During heat stroke, body temperature can rise as high as 106 degrees Fahrenheit (41 degrees Celsius) and can cause serious and permanent disability. Heat exhaustion is less severe, but more common, and occurs when the body becomes severely dehydrated and can no longer control its temperature as a result. Heat stroke can stop the body from sweating, making it even more difficult for the body to cool down. Here are some tips to keep you hydrated and safe all summer long:
- Drink a lot. Even if you are not exercising, drinking plenty of water is the key to staying healthy in the sun. If you are working out however, water and other fluids will help you replace the water lost through sweat. The CDC recommends that you drink two to four glasses of water every hour during heavy exercise.
- Avoid Alcohol. It sees like a no-brainer, but alcoholic beverages are the worst things you can drink on a hot day. Alcohol only makes you more dehydrated, so stick with water whenever possible.
- Skip the Caffeine and Sugar. Like alcohol, caffeine and sugar cause your body to lose fluids. This includes skipping soda, juices, coffee and tea.
- Keep Drinks Cool, Not Cold. Ice-cold drinks can be too cold for your body and very often causes stomach cramps. So, drink water that only feels cool to the touch.
- Wear Loose Clothing. Bicycle shorts may be more comfortable on a long ride, but a loose T-shirt and shorts will help air to circulate around your skin. This allows sweat to evaporate and cool your body.
- Steer Clear of the Sun. This can mean either staying in the shade, or doing your exercise in the very early morning or late evening, when the sun isn't as strong. You can quickly feel a huge temperature difference if you move your daily run from the beach to a tree-lined street.
- Wear a Hat, Sunglasses and Sunscreen. Besides protecting you from the sun, a wide-brimmed hat keeps the sun off your face, keeping it cooler. Also, don't allow yourself to sunburn—burned skin hampers you body's ability to cool off.
- Slow Down. Most importantly, don't expect your body to be able to work as hard as it would under more temperate conditions. If you head begins to pound and you have difficulty breathing, stop whatever you are doing. Find a shady spot, and rest.
- Know the Symptoms. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include fatigue, weakness, nausea, vomiting, headache, dizziness, muscle cramps and irritability. If you experience any of these symptoms during exercise, take a break and a drink of water. This will prevent your heat exhaustion from progressing into heat stroke, which can cause confusion, impaired judgment and even coma.