If the temperatures outside are spiking and the humidity feels overwhelming, you might be tempted to bring your exercise routine back indoors. But when it comes to the warmer months, it’s all about working out smarter, not harder.
Dehydration and heat stroke are two of the most common heat-related illnesses that can occur if you’re not taking the proper precautions while outdoors. And though they’re often associated with the older population, “exertional heatstroke is a condition primarily affecting younger, active persons,” the American Academy of Family Physicians reveals in a 2005 review.
“It is characterized by rapid onset — developing in hours — and frequently is associated with high core temperatures,” James J. Glazer, MD, notes in the report, and reminds us that heat stroke can start taking effect quickly if not properly treated or prevented.
So if you have a major race later this year and are training outdoors, or simply prefer to workout out in nature and skip the gym for now, make sure you’re taking all the necessary precautions.
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1. Be aware of the heat index
Before you head outdoors, check the latest heat index in your area. The heat index, which measures the temperature and the relative humidity in your area, can determine how hard your body will have to work to stay cool during a workout. The hotter the temperatures, and the more humid the day (read: the more moisture in the air), the more your body has to work to regulate its internal temperature and wick sweat. If the heat index hits 90, you’re better off heading to the gym or opting for an at-home workout.
Pay particular attention to heat advisories, which will alert you to excessively high temperatures and humidity — neither of which make for ideal workout conditions.
2. Time your workouts
During summer months when the days are longer, you’ll want to choose the times you’re outside strategically. Just like when it comes to sun safety during summer beach trips, you should avoid being in direct sunlight and heat from the hours of 10 AM to 4 PM, when the sun is at its most powerful.
Opting for morning or evening outdoor workouts, when the sun’s rays are not as high, and the temperatures tend to be cooler, means you won’t be exerting as much energy to power through your session.
3. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
Did we mention hydrate? Drink water before, during, and after an outdoor workout, even if you’re not necessarily thirsty. Before you head outdoors, drink two cups of water in preparation for the exercise. You’ll want to keep hydrating throughout a run, drinking at least four ounces of water every 15 minutes you’re outside. Once you’ve finished, head back inside and drink another cup of water (8 ounces) as part of your cool down.
4. Watch out for cramps, headaches, and dizziness
At every point of an outdoor workout in the heat, listen to your body. If you’re starting to get a stitch in your side, take a break. If you’re feeling dizzy or nauseous, or begin to develop a headache, take a break. Don’t count these symptoms out as just another sign that you’re working out hard — they’re also some of the most common signs of heat stroke. Drinking water will help alleviate cramps and headaches, and slowing down can ease the dizziness.
5. Stop when you need to
For those extra-hot days, don’t give it your all. Instead, exercise at a slower or less intense pace than you would on a regular day. Choose shorter bursts of speed or intensity, but above all, stop when your body needs to. Don’t ignore or push through warning signs — take a timeout, and you’ll end up being able to hit your goals while staying safe, despite the heat.
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