It has been uncharacteristically hot this past week in Baja California. Temperatures have reached the high 90's, there's been little to no cloud coverage, and the breeze has been gentle to non-existent. For most, this weather makes any activity uncomfortable. For outdoor exercisers, or individuals who spend a lot of time outside, hot weather can be dangerous!
Our bodies maintain a delicate balance when it comes to our temperature. Too high or too low by just a handful of degrees can lead to disaster quick. The body has very powerful mechanisms to help it maintain this balance, but these mechanisms can be hindered or even overpowered in certain circumstances. Exercise in the heat is okay, and there can be benefits to moving around when it is hot. So, don't feel like you have to sit indoors during the next heat wave. Here five tips to help beat the heat and keep your body active.
1. Stay Hydrated
Water is perhaps the most powerful tool when it comes to staying cool. Water is also necessary for almost every basic function, and our body uses a lot of H2O. Water is used in sweat of course, but also in our blood which plays a big role in thermo-regulation too. Without drinking plenty of water, our ability to sweat will decline, as well as our blood volume. These two factors can lead to even more adverse effects if not corrected. Basic body function also diminishes when our hydration level drops as little as 1-2%! During exercise in normal conditions the body can lose up to two, 24 oz bottles worth of water per hour. This water needs to be replaced, and the sooner the better, but don't try to drink as much as you are losing all at once. Before exercise even begins, make sure you are hydrated, and have a normal sized water bottle (16-24 oz) to sip on during exercise. If your session is more than an hour long or particularly intense you might also consider drinking a done some electrolytes (gatorade/pedialyte) as well. Continue to regularly drink water after exercise as well.
2. Stay Nourished
Much how we need to stay hydrated for proper body functioning, we also need to stay properly nourished. Keeping the body cool takes energy, and our body gets the energy it needs from food. Your body needs energy for both exercise and recovery afterwards; if all of the available energy is going to cooling mechanisms then exercise performance will diminish. Likewise, if more energy is being directed towards the workout (typical of high intensity training) then recovery and cooling will be diminished. This can lead to injury, illness or even death. This is why fasted exercise is not a good idea in hot weather. Our bodies also get up to 20% of our water needs from the foods we drink, so staying properly nourished will help with point number one. When going to workout in the heat, try to eat a small meal with carbs and some protein (a banana with peanut butter) 1-2 hours before starting.
3. Reduce Exercise Volume/Intensity
You have likely noticed that things seem much harder to do when the weather is hot. This is an actual phenomena, and no, you are not a wimp to the heat. Our bodies have several things to focus on at once when we are just sitting down (breathing, metabolism etc.) Adding additional stress will make normal functions more difficult. Heat is an additional stress, as is exercise, and therefore, increasing the heat of environment will actually increase the perceived intensity of exercise. This is why it is necessary to modify exercise in the heat. When the weather is nice, a mile run in eight minutes may be easy. When the thermometer creeps up, that 8 minute jog quickly becomes anything but a cake walk. You don't have to modify your workout by much. Instead of a mile in eight minutes, try finishing it in 9. Decreasing the volume may also be necessary, because exercising in the heat results in more energy used when compared to the same activity at lower temperature. So in our eight minute run example, our jogger could instead shoot for for a 3/4 mile run in the same time instead.
4. Increase Rest Periods and Water Breaks
For the same reasons that make the above points valid, you should also take more rest and water breaks when exercising in the heat. If you are not acclimated to heat exercise you may find yourself winded more easily, and that's okay. Heat waves can surprise even the most prepared athletes, and you are not 'weak' for taking a break when you know you need one (no matter what your eighth grade gym teacher said!). Unlike heat acclimation, the body will never adapt to a water deficit. Take water breaks as often as you can, without sending yourself on a trip to the bathroom
5. Have a Partner
Exercise in the heat is serious business, and it can get the best of even the most well trained athletes. Exercising with a partner is always good advice, but in hot weather it is a necessity. Heat exhaustion, heat stroke, or other heat related medical events can happen to anyone even when they are well prepared. An exercise partner will be able to give aid, or call for help in the event of an emergency. We can also become delirious or confused at the onset of dehydration or when we become fatigued in the heat (a mirage is a good example of this). A workout partner will be able to direct you when you are unable to make good decisions on your own. If you cannot find a partner, then at least workout in a public place, where help wouldn't be far away in the unlikely case of an emergency.
Exercising in the heat is possible, and actually has many benefits. However it is important that proper measures are taken in order to perform the activities both safely and effectively.
Thanks as always for reading, and we'll see you around La Misión Fitness & Yoga!
Corey Evans, CSCS, CISSN