Warm Weather Exercise Tips
A few months ago, when it was still cold and snowy outside, I wrote on how to stay safe exercising in cold weather. Now that it looks like we’re going to have record-breaking heat this summer, we need to talk about exercising when it’s hot.
Last summer my favorite thing to do was hit the road as soon as the sun came up and put in five or six miles. When I’d stop an hour later, you could see the steam rising off of my skin as I did my cool-down stretches. It was heaven.
The same weather considerations have to be made, such as specific kinds of clothing, hydration and skin protection, they’re just often in reverse. Let’s look at the best ways to stay safe and comfortable when breaking a sweat outdoors this summer.
The body is pretty amazing at cooling itself in general. When your core temperature rises, you sweat. The sweat evaporates, taking the body heat along for the ride. The heart also pumps more blood to the skin, and the skin blood vessels dilate, dumping more heat.
Those who exercise regularly in the heat have a lower core temperature, lower heart rate, and begin to sweat sooner than others. Given that efficiency, it only makes sense to aid the body in doing what it already does well.
First, stick to the coolest times of day. This strategy makes sense because you’re not taxing systems that are efficient, but roundly unused from October through May for most climates.
For most of us, that means dawn or dusk, and both are great times to get a workout, depending on your work and family schedules. Getting acclimatized takes a bit of time, and the cooler summer temperatures of early morning and early evening are great for this.
You also need to choose your fabrics carefully. You’ll want to wear fabrics that are light in both weight and color. Fabrics that are designed to wick moisture away from the skin are best, such as Nike Dri-FIT and Under Armour‘s HeatGear. Next best are 100 percent natural hemp and cotton fabrics.
If you run early enough, it might be chilly enough to wear two layers, so be sure they’re something you can stash easily or tie around your waist. Some people have a spot where they ditch things on the outgoing part of a run to pick up on the return trip.
There’s great debate about whether to hydrate during runs, how much, and the temperature of the drink. I’ve found that I don’t need to hydrate on runs of an hour or less, but after about 75 minutes, I start to lose form, focus and speed.
A study led by David Jones, professor of sport and exercises at the University of Birmingham, England, found that those who drank ice cold fluids before and during exercise endured longer than those who drank warm beverages, as well as having slightly lower temperatures and heart rates.
They also drank 40 percent more than those who had room-temperature water. However, they found that after exercise, you should drink room temperature water, as cold water is more satiating, causing you to drink less.
As for water versus sports drinks, there are certainly advantages to both. Since sports drinks have electrolytes that water doesn’t, they’re a good choice in extreme heat. However, the sugar content leaves something to be desired.
I don’t ever advocate drinking anything with artificial sweetener unless it’s stevia, so you may consider something like Pedialyte to replace fluids. It’s got a good balance of glucose and fructose and has half the calories of Gatorade while keeping the ingredients natural.
When you become dehydrated, there is less water in the body to produce sweat, and you will, therefore, sweat less and have less cooling. Plasma blood volume also drops, and less blood flows to the skin.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends athletes begin exercise hydrated, stay hydrated during exercise and rehydrate afterward. However, because our needs are so different, there’s no one formula that works for everyone.
A good practice while you’re discovering your personal needs is to weigh yourself before exercise and after to see how much water you’ve lost. That way you’ll know how many ounces to replace going forward.
When you’re acclimatizing to exercising in extreme heat, you’ll need to lower your intensity. Let your body be your guide your first few times out, as you’ll probably fatigue much more quickly than you would inside.
The general rule of thumb is that it takes 10 to 14 days of daily outdoor exercise to acclimate to exercising in the heat, so give yourself the grace in performance time and endurance.
Another good idea while you’re getting used to working out in the heat is to stay close to shelter. Parks are great for this, as many of them have a half- or full-mile track, as well as a drinking fountain and bathroom. Those may seem like minor things, but as you discover your body’s hydration and elimination needs, they become increasingly more important.
Humidity adds another piece to the weather puzzle. When the air is saturated with water, the body is less able to rid itself of sweat, causing performance to suffer.
Smog is a concern in many areas of the country, my own included. While there are no long-term studies on the effects of smog on health and performance, it’s safe to say that avoiding heavy concentration is the wisest course of action.
To do so, experts suggest running just before dawn, away from traffic. The best areas are those with many trees and plants to help absorb the toxins, like parks or clearly marked paths on wooded trails.
For protecting the skin, Body Glide and the brand new Lanacane Anti-Chafing Gel are fantastic. I tend to get lots of redness around the bra line if I don’t use one of these products, but when I remember to slap them on before the run, it’s comfort city.
Body Glide is a stick that is great for hot spots wherever you get them. This year I’ve been using the Lanacane Anti-Chafing Gel, because it contains cornstarch. In this humidity, it’s been fantastic.
Another thing I love about the Lanacane is that it’s soothing to already chafed skin. If you forget it one day, you can use it after your run to help calm that raging chafing, then use it the next to prevent more damage to skin.
Sun poisoning is a pretty uncomfortable comdition that comes with prolonged outdoor exercise, at least for those of us who are fair-skinned. I’ll never forget “that one time, at band camp” (ok, it happened every year) when I got severe burns and actual blisters.
As if that weren’t bad enough, the accompanying fever and vomiting made an uncomfortable burn something much worse. Treatment is relatively simple, just cool compresses, soothing aloe, and staying out of the sun.
If there’s a severe burn accompanied by facial swelling, fever and/or chills, or fainting, seek medical attention.
Some medications can interfere with the body’s ability to cool itself properly during exercise. If you take antipsychotics, antihistamines, antidepressants, or muscle relaxants, your body may not be able to sweat as it normally would. Monitor your temperature and consult your physician if you take these meds.
Those with diabetes need to be careful with exercising in the heat. Because circulation is often compromised, you’ll need to be vigilant that your core temperature doesn’t exceed a healthy level. You may also want to check with your doctor about adjusting insulin levels for outdoor exercise.
Heat stroke is a real concern if you’re going long and hard in high heat without benefit of hydrating. There’s a continuum of symptoms, starting with fatigue and dizziness. Then cramping comes, with headache, nausea, and vomiting as core temperature exceeds 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
When you push on toward 104 degrees Fahrenheit, you experience hyperthermia. The absence of sweating with hot, red skin, rapid pulse, difficulty breathing, and disorientation are common symptoms. Seizures and coma come next, with organ failure and imminent death.
If you notice these signs in yourself or someone else as you’re exercising, get immediate medical attention. It may just save a life. The early symptoms aren’t present in everyone, so it pays to be vigilant.
Exercising al fresco can be a fantastic way to start or end the day, as well as getting in some much-needed exercise outside of the gym. Take into consideration your hydration, cooling, and protection needs and you’ll be A-OK!