Beat the Heat: Strategies for Working out in Hot Weather
With temperatures rising, it can be hard to continue making your workout routine a priority while also safely beating the heat. The average temperature in the United States in the summer of 2020 was record-breaking. In fact, that summer was the fourth hottest and in the driest one-third of all summers in the historical record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This summer has been no different, with above-average warmth that has been record-breaking in some areas of the U.S. including the Southeast and Southwest (NOAA, 2022). With temperatures on the rise, it’s important to think about safety while also prioritizing physical fitness.
When trying to work out during extreme temperatures, you should be conscious of planning your activities around peak temperatures and taking practical measures to reduce your risks for illness and injury. This article provides strategies for keeping up your exercise routine despite the heat.
Risks of Extreme Heat
Extreme temperatures may be great for a day at the beach, but can make high intensity activities like vigorous exercise more risky. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warn Americans that all heat-related illnesses are preventable, but unfortunately people don’t realize this until it is too late. Every year, nearly 700 people die due to extreme heat-related illness (CDC, 2022).
If heat exhaustion is left untreated, it can lead to a more severe condition called heatstroke, which can even be deadly. Heatstroke requires treatment in an emergency room because it can damage your brain, kidneys, heart and muscles. If a person suffering from heatstroke is not treated quickly enough, the damage can be worsened (Mayo Clinic, 2022).
Who is Affected and How Do You Prevent it?
Heat-related illness can come in a few forms and some are worse than others: heat cramps, heat syncope and exercise-associated collapse, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke. Heat cramps are the mildest form of heat-related illness, and consist of painful muscle contractions that happen after working out (Mayo Clinic, 2022). This condition is temporary and not serious. Your body temperature may be normal, but your muscles may feel firm and be spasming. Heat syncope and exercise-associated collapse may occur during high temperatures or happen quickly when you stand up. You may feel lightheaded or faint.
More serious heat-related conditions include heat exhaustion. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include fatigue, cramping muscles, headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness and fainting (CDC, 2022). Sometimes, a person with heat exhaustion has skin that feels cool to the touch, even though they are suffering. Heat exhaustion and heatstroke can affect children, the elderly, and pets more quickly, so if you are working out with anyone in these groups, you’ll need to take special care to ensure they aren’t affected.
Symptoms of heatstroke include body temperature greater than 103 degrees Fahrenheit; skin that is red, dry and hot; dizziness, nausea, throbbing headache, confusion and unconsciousness (CDC, 2022). High body temperatures can damage the brain, organs, and skin. The same groups mentioned above are more at-risk for suffering from heat exhaustion.
Preventing heat-related illness involves staying hydrated, avoiding direct and during heat and sun, pacing your activity, and taking protective measures like wearing UV-protective clothing, putting on and reapplying sunscreen regularly (California Department of Public Health, 2019).
Importance of Hydration
Staying hydrated is important year round, but even more critical during periods of extreme heat. The body is 60% water, and sweating means you’re losing water. Replenishing that water is key to avoiding dehydration during summer months.
You may have heard experts recommending people to drink eight 8 oz. glasses of water per day, but this blanket advice does not take into account individual factors such as a person’s height and weight, gender, activity level, geographic area, climate, and the medications they are taking (Gunnars, 2020). You can use an online calculator to ascertain how much water you need based on your height and weight, but experts from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences recommend 11.5 cups of water a day for women, and 15.5 cups a day for men. A person may need even more water following an intense workout.
Healthcare experts recommend drinking when thirsty, but this rule of thumb may not be as helpful during the extremely hot summer months when people are sweating more just by being outside. A person who is exercising and thirsty may already be dehydrated and not know it. To help jumpstart hydration, using sports drinks and supplements with electrolytes can help you replenish lost water quickly and rehydrate your organs. Electrolytes are essential minerals like sodium, potassium, and calcium (Mayo Clinic, 2022). When consuming sports drinks, however, you will want to be mindful of sugar levels–consuming 30 grams or less of sugar per 24 ounces of sports drinks (Mayo Clinic, 2022).
LaLa Swann, a mobile fitness trainer in Raleigh, NC and owner of Swann Fit echoes this sentiment.
“I would definitely suggest carrying a water bottle with you. In extreme heat I highly recommend adding electrolytes to your water. As you sweat, you lose not only water but electrolytes. Without replacing those electrolytes you end up feeling various symptoms like fatigue, headache, and/or cramping,” she said. “As far as electrolytes go I’ve had really good success with brands such as Scratch, Liquid IV, and LMNT. My favorite is Scratch though, because it uses natural ingredients and is low in sugar. When picking out an electrolyte product, always choose one that is free of unnecessary ingredients like dyes (Red 40) and artificial sweeteners (Sucralose and Acesulfame). Try to pick one with real sugar and very little [of it],” she said.
Myra Joy Veluz, MFA, a Holistic Movement Educator based in Southern California, is a fan of Foxhound Fuel brand because there is no sugar added and they use all-natural ingredients.
What to Wear?
Experts agree that it’s crucial to protect your body from the sun’s harmful rays, which can lead to painful sunburns, premature aging and even skin cancer. Before you set out to exercise on a hot day, bring some sun-protecting products with you, such as a hat, UV-protective clothing, and sunscreen.
In terms of attire, dressing appropriately in sweat-wicking, lightweight clothing that absorbs heat is recommended. Sticking to light colors helps keep you cool as well. Accessories like headbands can help keep sweat and hair out of your face.
“Wearing breathable clothing is also important when exercising in the heat. You want material that allows moisture to evaporate and increase circulation,” added Swann.
Sunscreen use and reapplication are another crucial element to working out in hot weather, regardless if you’re exercising indoors and outdoors. To ensure you stay protected, look for sunscreen brands that are labeled waterproof or water-resistant, as they stay on longer.
“Some of my must-have products are sunscreen from brands like Supergoop or Elta MD for the face, and Trader Joe’s spray for the body,” said Veluz. She also recommends wearing a baseball cap and sunglasses for additional sun protection.
Ways to Stay Cool Indoors
In many ways, working out indoors is better than exercising outdoors, for the sheer fact that you are in a covered, shaded space with air conditioning or fans. That’s why many people flock to gyms and fitness studios when the weather is particularly brutal.
“If you can work out and/or take classes indoors, do so. But remember that there may be some days that the AC system will not work due to overuse,” said Veluz. “Make sure you take breaks as needed and stay properly hydrated.”
Just because you’re exercising indoors, however, does not mean you can forget about all the tips for staying safe, hydrated and cool. Pacing yourself to see how much activity you can handle is a good first step. This is especially critical if you are returning to exercise after a period of time of being away. Recognizing your fitness level before you pick up weights or step on the treadmill is a great way to pace yourself.
When the workout is done, a great tip is to make use of showers in your home, gym or studio to cool off. If you have access to ice, you may want to dip your feet in an ice bucket to cool off quickly.
Ways to Stay Cool Outdoors
“Being outdoors in the summer is inevitable, but with some planning, it is definitely doable,” said North Carolina-based healthcare professional Sadie Abboud, MSN, FNP-BC. “It’s best to avoid the hottest time of the day, which usually means you’re working out early in the morning or in the evening after the sun has set.”
Some physical activities are well-suited to scorching temperatures, like swimming. Working around extreme heat can be a viable way to still partake in physical activity and stay safer doing so. Water exercise is suitable for people with body pain who need a workout that will put less stress on their knees, back, joints and bones (Jafarnezhadgero, Fatollahi, Amirzadeh, Siahkouhian, & Granacher, 2019).
If you have access to a pool, consider showing up early to get some laps in before the height of the sun reaches its apex. If the pool is indoors, that is even better. However, just because a pool is indoors doesn’t mean you’re exempt from wearing and reapplying sunscreen.
“If you can, find shade when you work out outdoors. I’ve trained my clients in their garages, under tents and trees, as well as shaded parking decks,” said Swann.
If you live near a beach, the same recommendation for showing up early applies. If swimming in the ocean is not an option, consider walking, jogging or running on the beach. If you’ve ever felt like you’re working harder when walking on the beach, you’re not imagining things. Walking in sand requires greater effort from your muscles and tendons, which makes it useful for strengthening feet and ankles (Zapata, 2021). You can also do yoga or boot camp-style classes on the beach while using your own body weight. Another benefit of working out on the beach is the ability to take a refreshing dip in the ocean afterwards.
Whether you’re swimming in a pool or the ocean, being near water has calming effects on the human nervous system and can bring about feelings of peace and serenity, especially following a strenuous workout.
Switch Out your Sweaty Garments
Whether you are working out indoors or outdoors, the following recommendations still apply: pacing yourself, staying hydrated, dressing appropriately, wearing sunscreen and avoiding midday sun. This is what helps keep you safe and comfortable when working out during periods of extreme heat. But after the workout is over and you come home, it’s important to change out of sweaty exercise clothing or bathing suits and take a shower. Hanging around in sweaty attire not only smells bad, but can be a breeding ground for bacteria that can lead to skin issues like clogged pores, acne, yeast and other types of infections (Galic, 2021). For people with psoriasis, lounging in sweaty workout clothes can lead to increased itching and dryness (Galic, 2021).
It’s not just skin issues you’ll need to worry about–the risk of genital infections for both men and women increases the longer you stay in damp, sweaty workout attire. If your gym or workout studio has a shower, make sure to bring a fresh pair of clothes to change into after your shower, since re-exposing yourself to dirty clothes can worsen these issues.
How Much Water Should I Be Drinking, and How Often?
You likely already know the importance of hydrating post-workout (the body is 60% water!), but you may not know how much water you actually need. And to make matters more complex, this recommendation changes based on a few factors such as the temperature outside. When in doubt, consult with your healthcare provider.
What you drink throughout the day matters. Experts agree the best way to hydrate regularly is by drinking plain water. If you have a hard time meeting your hydration goals, there are a few ways to make drinking water more fun. Infusing your water with fresh or frozen fruits like cucumber, blueberries, raspberries, strawberry slices and citrus can help add some natural flavor without adding calories.
For those who love ice water, investing in a stainless steel bottle or tumbler will keep your water ice cold for hours and may inspire you to drink water more often. Some water bottles even have notches for you to track your consumption or lines on the bottle that coincide with times of the day so you can make sure you’re drinking enough water throughout the day. Some bottles are even collapsible and portable for those who are constantly on the go. When looking for a water bottle, make sure the product you’re purchasing or drinking from is BPA-free, as BPA is a known endocrine disruptor. For this reason, BPA-free plastic, glass or stainless steel bottles are the best depending on your preference.
If you’re a fan of drinking soda and coffee, you may be urinating more frequently and thus need more water intake to make up for it. Medicines like diuretics or others may also dehydrate you, so drinking more water is recommended, especially during times of high heat.
If you’ve ever wondered just how well-hydrated (or not-so-well hydrated) you are, the color of your urine may give you clues.
“Hydrating throughout the day after exercise is important. Just because your workout is over, doesn’t mean you should stop rehydrating,” said Abboud. “When you are properly hydrated, your urine may be colorless, or the color of straw or pale honey, which is ideal.”
On the other hand, if your urine is dark yellow or amber, you are not well-hydrated (Bajic, 2021). Keep in mind that some medications, antibiotics or vitamins may temporarily turn your urine a different color.
It’s not about what you’re drinking and how much of it – but it’s also about how often you are drinking to rehydrate your body following a strenuous workout in hot weather. Abboud recommends spacing out your water consumption as opposed to drinking a large amount of water at the start and end of your workout. She also recommends water as the perfect liquid to drink for hydration, as opposed to electrolyte drinks. Some people may have a personal preference for electrolyte drinks because they may find drinking plain water to be a challenge.
Although it can be disheartening to have to plan your workouts around the heat, with a little planning and effort, it shouldn’t affect your motivation. These strategies will help you cope with extreme weather during the summer while still getting some exercise in and staying healthy, whether you opt to work out indoors or outdoors. On the hottest days of the year, staying home, taking a rest day or moving outdoor workouts inside are all recommended.
Remembering to prepare for a hot day, planning around the hottest time of the day, staying properly protected from the sun and staying hydrated are all crucial elements that apply no matter the location of your workout or the time of day. Furthermore, protecting vulnerable populations like children, the elderly and pets during periods of extreme heat can help keep everyone safe and keep workouts enjoyable at the same time.
Author Bio: Nicki Karimpour, PHD
Contributor and Health Advisor
Dr. Nicki Karimipour is a communications expert and experienced researcher. She obtained her master’s degree and Ph.D. in Health Communications from the University of Florida. She has previous experience in writing and editing for both print and online publications, and almost a decade of experience in teaching health writing, public health, and public relations at the undergraduate and graduate level. She is based in Los Angeles, California and currently works at the University of Southern California as a director of communications and clinical research. Follow her on Twitter: @NickiKPhD
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