Summer fitness: How to stay safe in the heat

Written by jessica bell
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Summer fitness: How to stay safe in the heat
Running in the summer can be dangerous, especially if you don't take the right safety precautions. (Getty Thinkstock)

"In the summer, we lose so much fluid so it is important to replace lost fluids with electrolytes -- liquids containing sodium, magnesium and potassium."

— Joy von Werder, triathlon coach and owner of Train to Tri coaching

The heat of the sun can be merciless during warmer months, especially for those who like to exercise outdoors. Whether you're a cyclist who hammers out hours in the saddle or just someone who enjoys a morning jog or an occasional boot camp, there are safety precautions you should keep in mind when exercising outdoors in high temperatures. Heat stresses the body and causes responses that could be dangerous when left untreated. Keep your body cool and your workouts safe by being mindful of a few factors, such as exercise times, nutrition, hydration and clothing.

Your body's response to heat

Your core temperature rises when you exercise in the heat, and your body responds with its natural cooling mechanism: sweat. As sweat evaporates from your skin, it helps to reduce your body temperature. However, prolonged exposure to the heat can result in excessive sweating and dehydration, which in turn can cause you to develop heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion, heat cramps, and the most dangerous -- heat stroke. Fortunately, there are several preventative measures that you can take to avoid getting sick in the sun.

Pay attention to additonal hydration and nutritional needs

The single most important element to safely exercising in the heat is hydration. When you're planning to train in heat, take a preemptive strike against dehydration by beginning to consume water an hour or two before your workout begins. During exercise, strive to drink about seven to 300ml (10 ounces) of liquid every 15 to 20 minutes. Joy von Werder, triathlon coach and owner of Train to Tri coaching, is very familar with the brutality of outdoor training in hot conditions. "In the summer, we lose so much fluid so it is important to replace lost fluids with electrolytes -- liquids containing sodium, magnesium and potassium," recommends von Werder. Your nutritional needs also increase during workouts, especially in the heat. Vitamins play a critical role in energy production, and since they're often lost through excessive sweating, it may be a good idea for those who regularly train in hot temperatures to supplement with a multivitamin.

Wear clothing designed for exercise in the heat

Working out in a cotton t-shirt is a thing of the past. These days, the market is flooded with high-tech clothing and fabrics to help you stay cool in the heat. Wear lightweight, light-coloured clothes made of sweat-wicking materials like CoolMax, Drymax or Smartwool, to keep from becoming a hot, soggy mess. Remember, sweat cools your body as it evaporates from your skin, so clothing that keeps sweat trapped on your body will interfere with this natural cooling mechanism. There are also special materials available that block a portion of the sun's harmful UV rays which can lead to sunburn and overheating. These fabrics are rated by an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF). Like SPF in sunscreen, UPF measures the degree to which fabric disrupts UV rays, ranging from 15 (good) to 50+ (excellent). Although these fabrics can help prevent sunburn, it is still very important to wear and reapply a sweat-proof sunscreen every 90 minutes, suggests von Werder.

Acclimate to hot environments

To prevent overheating outside, give your body the chance to adapt to hot environments. If you live in a cool, dry region, the heat and humidity of other areas will come as a shock to your system. Ease into training in these environments over a couple of weeks by slowly increasing your exercise intensity and duration. When possible, save your highest intensity training for cooler months. For example, if you're planning to run a marathon, choose a race in early summer or winter. This will allow you to complete your hardest training in the cooler spring and autumn months.

Create a backup plan

On days when the heat is just too much for your planned workout, have a backup plan that either shortens your workout or takes it inside. When the heat is too intense, "some people prefer to exercise indoors and take part in an indoor cycling or spinning class, or swim," says Von Werder. Working out indoors may seem boring, but you'll be able to train harder and longer without putting yourself at risk for developing heat-related illnesses. Finally, make sure you discuss your medical risks with your doctor. If you have a condition that leaves you prone to overheating, plan your workouts accordingly.

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