Summer heat and humidity can certainly put a strain on your training plans. While you may have the option of moving your workout plans indoors to an air-conditioned room, this isn’t the only way to stay cool while exercising in warm weather. With a little planning and precautions, many people can still safely exercise outdoors on hot summer days.
Start by understanding how heat (heat generated around and by you) affects your body.
Every time we exercise, our body produces heat. To avoid overheating, the body releases some of this heat into the air through sweat production. “Evaporation cools the surface of the skin when sweat turns from liquid to vapor,” said Oluseun Olufade, MD, assistant professor of orthopedics at the Emory School of Medicine and sports physician with the Atlanta Hawks, US Soccer, and Emory University.
So if the temperature of the air around you is warmer, or if your body produces more heat from exercise – or both – you sweat more. When it comes to staying cool in the summer heat, sweat definitely helps. During exercise, the body also directs blood flow away from your internal organs and towards the blood vessels around your skin to cool your body.
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Despite all of these built-in cooling systems, we can still overheat – especially when we’re exercising in hot conditions. When the heat you produce is greater than the heat you lose, your body temperature rises, which can lead to serious health problems, including heat rash, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke (which can be life-threatening). according to Cleveland Clinic.
Here are some signs that you are experiencing heat exhaustion or heat stroke and should see a doctor right away:
- Nausea or vomiting
- High body temperature (103 degrees F or higher)
- Hot, red, dry, or damp skin
- Fast, strong pulse
Read the Center for Disease Control and Prevention Fact Sheet on Other Heat-Related Disease Symptoms for a complete guide to the red flags that your body is getting too hot.
What can you do to avoid overheating while exercising outdoors in summer? Here are 11 tips.
1. Let your body get used to the heat
No matter how fit you are, everyone takes time to get used to the heat. Failure to do so is actually a risk factor for heat-related illness (as well as poor physical fitness and strenuous exercise), according to a study published in the journal American Family Physician in April 2019.
“Heat acclimatization enables the body to get used to operating at higher temperatures and helps protect the system from vibrations during training,” says Dr. Olufade. Taking this step will allow you to train at a higher level for longer while maintaining a lower body temperature as the heat rises.
To do this (if the weather changes, or if you’re traveling in much warmer temperatures than you’re used to), start with shorter workouts and gradually increase the duration and intensity over a period of 10 to 14 days, Olufade says. Withhold intense or long workouts in the heat until you’ve acclimatized.
2. Know your risk
Heat affects everyone differently based on a variety of factors (age, genetics, fitness level, other health issues), but certain groups should take extra precautions. People who are generally at increased risk for heat-related illness include:
- Older adults
- People who don’t exercise often
- People with pre-existing conditions such as heart disease
- People with acute illnesses such as fever and upper respiratory infections
- People who take certain medications such as diuretics and COPD drugs
If this is the case for you, then you need to be extra careful when exercising in the heat. Sometimes AC can be best indoors.
3. Don’t forget to keep hydrated before exercise
Staying hydrated is important at any time of the year, but it’s even more important in hot conditions. If possible, drink more water two to three hours before exercising. In addition to the 125 ounces or exercise, says Olufade. Water is always an effective pre-workout drink, but you can drink drinks with electrolytes to increase hydration.
One way to tell if you are hydrated is to look at the color of your urine (and whether you are peeing as much as usual). When hydrated, it should look clearer than yellow and you should pee as much as usual.
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4. Eat for hydration
You can also increase your body’s fluid balance by consuming water-rich foods throughout the day, says Julie Brown, RD, an American Council on Exercise (ACE) certified personal trainer and nutritionist with Life Time in Chanhassen, Minnesota. Foods rich in water are cucumber and watermelon.
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5. Don’t overeat beforehand
If you are exercising in the heat, avoid eating a large meal before exercising. “It takes energy to digest food,” says Brown. Digestion explains more body heat, and diverts blood flow away from the muscles you exercise during exercise. When your body tries to digest food and move vigorously at the same time, it can result in digestive problems that lead to annoying exercise.
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6. Wear heat-adapted clothing
Wear clothing that allows the heat to escape from your body. “Loose, light-colored clothing is best for keeping the body cool,” says Olufade. Look for fabrics, often synthetic, that are lightweight and moisture wicking (that’s how it should be on the label).
7. Use sunscreen
Heat and humidity aren’t the only worries in summer. Sun exposure is the leading risk factor for skin cancer; So take steps to protect yourself.
Apply the sunscreen and choose one with a SPF of at least 15, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. Use two tablespoons all over your body and apply 30 minutes before you go out. Use every two hours per general guideline, but if you sweat, use every hour, according to the American College of Sports Medicine.
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Also consider clothing with a UV protection factor (UPF), which is like SPF but applies to clothing and hats. And wear sunglasses that block 99 to 100 percent of UVA and UVB rays and block 75 to 90 percent of visible light, according to the American Academy of Optometry. Yes, you need to protect your eyes from the sun too!
8. Carry water (or know where to find it during your workout)
If the temperature rises above 80 degrees F, bring water (or plan ahead of where to find some on your exercise route).
According to ACE, you need to replenish your body with 7 to 10 ounces of water every 10 to 20 minutes of exercise in the heat. And if your workout is longer than 60 minutes, consider adding electrolyte supplements to your water (it helps the body maintain fluid balance, which is important when you are exerting yourself and losing a lot of water through sweat).
9. Avoid workouts in the middle of the day
“The midday sun can raise the temperature by around 20 degrees [depending on where you live and time of year]“, Says Braun. This means that noon is usually the hottest point of the day.
If you run, walk, or cycle, choose a more shaded route whenever possible and avoid times when the sun is most intense, usually between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
10. Monitor the Air Quality Index (AQI)
Air quality is a growing problem in outdoor sports. “Air quality affects the exchange of oxygen in the lungs,” says Olufade, adding that people with asthma and allergies are at greater risk of complications if they exercise in poor air quality. “Your body works better when the air quality is better.”
When is the AQI (a combined measure of ozone, particulate pollution, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide) too high to exercise outdoors? Brown says anything 50 or above (check local forecasts or AirNow for your city’s current air quality) can be challenging for people with impaired health. Play it safe by choosing times of the day with a lower AQI or changing your plans by going inside or changing your intensity or duration.
11. Adapt your training to the weather
Don’t save your most intense workouts for the hottest days. Decrease the intensity of your exercise (choose a less strenuous activity or a shorter workout) when temperatures and humidity are high.
Also, consider an activity that allows you to take breaks to hydrate and lower your heart rate, says Olufade. If you’re part of a gym, do your warm-up and cool-down at the club so that you shorten your time in the heat, suggests Brown.
The risk of heat-related injuries increases when the temperature rises above 80 degrees F and the humidity is greater than 75 percent, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. Consider adjusting your exercise in any of the ways above in these conditions.