The lure of a warm summer day is often difficult to resist. Whether your idea of a good time is golfing, cycling, hiking or fishing, or simply spending time working on the yard, the brighter, longer days have a way of motivating us, infusing a level of energy and enthusiasm that perfectly defines the season.
That certainly isn’t a bad thing for personal health, points out Dr. Holly Andersen, director of education and outreach at the Ronald O. Perelman Heart Institute in New York City.
“Exercise is the fountain of youth, and summer is the perfect time to reconnect with your body,” she said.
But while many of us may relish the opportunity to reconnect through outdoor play and exercise as the weather continues its transition toward summer, beneficial exercise during this time of year has its risks. Heat and humidity, experts say, add an extra level of stress to the body as you move and exercise, the ramifications of which can be dangerous if not planned for and dealt with properly.
According to the Mayo Clinic, when both exercise and environmental temperatures combine to increase your body’s temperature, your body responds by circulating more blood to the skin for cooling, leaving less blood for your muscles.
“Heat-related injuries range from minor issues such as muscle cramps due to the loss of water and salt through perspiration dizziness, clammy skin and rapid heartbeat; to heat exhaustion in the form of headaches, nausea and weakness; and finally heat stroke, which can be fatal,” said Dr. Evelyn Granieri, director of geriatrics at New York Presbyterian/Allen Hospital.
This is some scary-sounding stuff, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s all preventable, says the Mayo Clinic, which states that by taking some basic precautions, “your exercise routine doesn’t have to be sidelined when the heat is on.”
Practice Good Timing: Avoid midday workouts by exercising early in the morning or late in the evening – you know, when it’s cooler. By avoiding the hottest time of the day, you’ll also be avoiding a direct hit from the sun’s harmful rays.
Acclimate Your Body: Take it easy during the early summer heat – at least until your body begins to acclimate. “When you go out for the first time in the summer heat, you’re going to have a lot of cardiovascular strain, you won’t be sweating as much and you may feel pretty miserable,” said Michael Sawka, adjunct profession in the School of Applied Physiology at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “But as you go out over a number of days – let’s say a week or two – you’ll find that you adapt very quickly.”
Drink Early & Often: Drink before, during and after your workout – no excuses. And don’t wait until you’re thirsty to take your first sip as thirst is often a sign you’re already dehydrated. Hydration is a key to preventing heat-related illness.
Dress for Heat/Protection: Wear lightweight, loose-fitting, bright-colored clothing that will help sweat evaporate, keeping your body cool. Also, protect yourself from the sun by wearing a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen with a high SPF.
Age Does Make a Difference: “As a person ages, the body’s response to high temperature changes,” said Dr. Dr. Michael Sterm, co-director of Geriatric Emergency Medicine Fellowship at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. “Compared with a younger person, an older adult may not be able to sense elevations in temperature as quickly or be able to cool down as readily.”
If you develop muscle cramps, become nauseous, feel weak or suffer a headache, dizziness or confusion while exercising, stop immediately, says the Mayo Clinic. Get out of the heat, drink cold water or a sports drink, and see a physician if symptoms continue.
And of course, seek the advice of your physician and your physical therapist before beginning any new or modified (due to the heat) exercise regimen. A physical therapist is uniquely equipped to work with your personal physician to develop an exercise program that fits your specific needs, goals and health/movement limitations.
Medical News Today: Useful Tips on Safe Exercising During the Coming Summer
Weill Cornell Medical College: Learn How to Prevent Heat-Related Injuries
Mayo Clinic: Heat & Exercise – Keeping Cool in Hot Weather
US News & World Report: How to Exercise in the Heat and What to Do if You Get Sick
Cleveland Clinic: Exercise & Heat