Exercising in hot weather is vastly different from exercising in cold conditions. When we exercise the body generates heat that it needs to get rid of; add hot weather to the mix and you can get a lot of heat building up in the body. When you have more heat being absorbed into the body than is lost, yon run the risk of heat stress.
Very hot and humid weather can pose special problems for exercising safely outdoors. Rather than giving up, you can take the certain precautions to promote safe exercise under adverse conditions. Therefore, this article discusses about the potential dangers of exercising in hot and humid environments as well as the safety measures you can take to make your training less dangerous.
What are the potential dangers of exercising in hot weather?
Exercising in hot weather puts extra stress on your body. If you don’t take care when exercising in the heat, you risk serious illness.
Heat collapse (syncope)
This is a sudden fatigue or fainting when overheating. The main cause of this is prolonged standing or exercising in the heat when not accustomed to doing so. You should lie down in a cool room and someone should give you fluids.
Heat cramps are acute and involuntary muscle pains, usually in the lower extremities, the abdomen, or both. They usually start suddenly during strenuous and/or prolonged physical activity and most often afflict people in good physical condition—for example, athletes, military personnel, and physical laborers.
Causes of heat cramps
- Profuse sweating
- Subsequent sodium losses in sweat (salt depletion)
- Dehydration (excessive fluid loss in muscles)
- Muscle fatigue
- Lack of acclimatization to local climate
- Excessive exposure to heat
Signs of heat cramps
- Excessive sweating
Symptoms of heat cramps
- Painful limb or stomach cramps
Management of heat cramps
- Cease all physical activity.
- Rest in a cool, shaded area.
- Loosen any clothing or equipment.
- Take small amounts of water, fruit juice, or sports drink.
- Postpone training, competition or physical activity for a few hours.
- Seek medical advice if the cramps do not subside in approximately 1 hour.
- Perform passive stretching.
- If you have a heart condition or if you’re on heart medication you should consult a doctor immediately if you experience heat cramps.
Heat exhaustion is one of the more serious heat-related illnesses, and occurs when the body is no longer able to cool itself off. It often happens because of an excessive exposure to heat or during long endurance events such as triathlons or marathons. Athletes initially suffering heat cramps may progress to heat exhaustion if not identified early or improperly managed. This condition can also be a precursor of the more serious condition known as heatstroke.
Causes of heat exhaustion
- Exposure to high temperatures and humidity combined with
- Strenuous physical activity
Signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion
As the athlete’s body temperature approaches 39 degrees Celsius, they may experience:
- Severe cramps in the limbs or stomach
- Poor judgment
- Lack of/poor coordination
- Cold clammy skin
- Low blood pressure upon standing
- Weakness and tiredness
- Nausea and dizziness
- Possible vomiting and fainting
- Body temperature may be normal or slightly above normal
- Dark-colored urine (an indication of severe dehydration)
- Shallow-rapid breathing
Management of heat exhaustion
- Send for emergency medical help.
- Have the athlete cease all physical activity.
- Rest the athlete in a cool, shaded area
- Loosen the athlete’s clothing and equipment
- Place the athlete under a cool shower or douse them with water.
- Cool the athlete with fans, if possible, but do not allow them to shiver.
- The athlete may not feel like drinking, but it is important they have small amounts of water or diluted sports drink, but note that excessive fluid consumption may induce vomiting.
- Be prepared to manage for shock.
Anyone who physically exerts themselves in very hot weather is potentially at-risk for heat exhaustion. But there are those who possess certain pre-existing health concerns who are at greater risk for the onset of this condition. Those of increased risk include:
- Individuals who do not drink enough water/fluids
- The very young and the very old are especially vulnerable
- Those who suffer from chronic illnesses or disabilities, especially cardiovascular and respiratory diseases
- Those suffering from hypertension/high-blood pressure
- Those considered obese
- Frequently drinkers of alcohol
- Individuals who work physically-demanding jobs such as construction workers, landscapers, athletes
Heat stroke is the most serious and life-threatening heat illness. It usually occurs when the athlete’s body temperature rises above 39 degrees Celsius, and when the symptoms of heat exhaustion are not recognised or effectively managed. You have to be careful not to confuse this with sunstroke, which is nausea and headache associated with too much exposure to the sun without UV protection. Heat stroke can result in death and requires prompt medical attention.
Causes of heat stroke
- Depletion of water in body
- All mechanism of body cooling fails
Signs and symptoms of heat stroke
- High body temperature
- Hot, dry, flushed skin
- Rapid/weak pulse
- Lack of sweating (the body’s attempt to prevent the loss of fluid)
- Irritability and aggressiveness
- Hysteria followed by apathy
- Failure to respond to questions
Management of heat stroke
- Send for emergency medical assistance immediately.
- If the athlete is unconscious, check airway, breathing and circulation and follow standard resuscitation protocol.
- Lay the athlete down and raise their legs slightly.
- Apply ice, wet towel, or cold packs to the armpit, groin and side of neck of the athlete. There are large arteries close to the surface of the body in these areas.
Rash (prickly heat)
Heat rash (prickly heat or miliaria) presents as a red raised skin rash accompanied by a tingling or itching sensation. It usually occurs in areas of the skin where sweat builds up rather than it “wicking” away through evaporation. The best treatment is to prevent sweat build up by regular towelling down.
Safety tips for exercising in how weather
The most important thing is to stay safe during hot-weather exercise.
- Dress tor the heat. Your exercise clothing should be light-colored, loose-fitting and made of lightweight, absorbent material such as cotton. As this material becomes sweat-soaked, it actually provides a cooling effect.
- Use common sense. Try to exercise in the early morning or late afternoon or early evening to avoid the worst of the heat. And during very hot spells, consider alternatives like swimming or exercising indoors in an air-conditioned space.
- Take time to adjust. The best way to acclimatize is to increase your exercise time gradually in hot weather over a period of several days. The average person needs seven to fourteen days to acclimatize fully.
- Drink fluids before and during exercise (check your body weight before and after exercise).
- Adjust the exercise intensity. Persons exercising in the heat should adjust the exercise intensity to accommodate circulatory strain accompanying exercise in hot environments. Heart rate remains a reliable indicator of cardiovascular strain during exercise-heat stress. Using the exercise heart rate to set the exercise intensity is a good method for reducing thermal strain in hot climates.
- Rest frequently and avoid extreme heat and humidity.
Summing up: Exercising in hot climates
As summer rolls around and daylight saving kicks in we tend to be more active and spend far more time in the sun. While we welcome the hot days and sunny weather, they bring some significant dangers, such as heat cramps, heat exhaustion, heat stroke, skin damage and heat collapse.
Drinking plenty of fluids is the most important step to minimize the effects of hot and humid weather. At the very least, neglecting to compensate for fluid loss can cause lethargy and nausea, interfering with your performance. In endurance activities like brisk walking, running, strenuous hiking, cycling and cross-country skiing, water loss can be severe, potentially producing heat exhaustion or heat stroke.