Avoiding a Heat Attack

I’m tippy-toeing my way back to regular exercise. Today I went out for a walk. My intention was to go for a regular old 30-minute walk and stick to the streets that are mostly flat and evaluate the impact on my back.

Well, I felt so good that I kept walking and walking, forgetting completely about the ‘flat street’ intention. This would have been fine if I had brought water with me, but I hadn’t since I hadn’t planned to be out that long. While it wasn’t scorching hot outside, it was very humid and I was a sweaty mess. And a stumbling mess at about the 3 mile mark. Lesson learned! Again! :)

Way back in July 2008, I posted an article titled The Hot Body You Don’t Want with tips for exercising in the heat. I can’t pass up the opportunity to rerun the tips as a reminder to exercise safely.

If you’re not already doing so, please consider following these tips when you exercise outdoors. I like you, and I don’t want you suffering a heat attack!

Check the weather report first! If the temps are going to be above 90F/32C and/or your humidity is expected to be at or higher than 75%, it might be a good idea to move your workout indoors. Also be mindful of the air quality. In problem areas, the weather forecasters will include any ozone warnings. If you don’t belong to a gym, consider going to a mall to walk or to a multi-story building for some stair-climbing. At minimum, you should aim for shaded trails or parks for your workout.

Watch the clock. Sun exposure, humidity and ozone issues are most intense midday. You’re better off exercising early in the morning or late evening, before 9 a.m. and after 7 p.m.

Hydrate yourself! Despite the rumors, it will not make you go blind. :) Drink more water than normal, and make sure you drink it before, during, and after your workout. If you’re going to be exercising for longer than an hour, you might want to add in one of the sports-type drinks to replace electrolytes.

Dress appropriately. Wear fabrics that contain wicking, which will help pull moisture away from your skin. Light-colored fabrics are best to reflect the sun’s rays. A cap will help shade your face and protect the top of your head. Sunglasses will protect your eyes. Oh, and sunscreen! Lots and lots of waterproof sunscreen, SPF 30 or higher. (Here’s a not-so-secret Cammy tip: keep a couple of damp washcloths in the freezer. When you get ready to exercise outdoors, grab a cloth and drape it across the back of your neck. Keep the other cloth for when you return home.)

Mind your transitions. Acclimate yourself to the heat. Start by exercising outdoors for just a few minutes each day and gradually increase your time. When you’ve finished exercising, ease your transition back into the cooler indoor climate. (I grab the remaining freezer cloth and a fresh glass of water, straight from the refrigerator door, and sit on my patio for a good 15 minutes. It’s during this time that I gloat over my success.)

Finally, pay attention to your body. Monitor your heart rate and if your intensity level rises above your target range, slow down or stop exercising for a bit. We rejoice in our improved fitness levels, but during times of extreme heat, it’s a really bad idea to push too hard. Looking on the bright side, you have a built-in excuse for taking an extra break or two. If you have any signs of heat illness (more on that below), stop immediately.

Danger Signs to Watch For
When heat/humidity rise, sweat can’t evaporate as quickly from our bodies, which can lead to overheating.

Symptoms of heat exhaustion include weakness, muscle cramps, dehydration, dizziness, confusion, rapid heart rate and headache. If left untreated, things can rapidly go from bad to worse, possibly resulting in heat stroke.

Heat stroke can be fatal and requires immediate medical attention. Symptoms include loss of consciousness, vomiting, respiratory distress, and hot, dry skin (your body’s signal that it’s not sweating properly).

Scared straight, I hope? Exercise is important, but exercising wisely is key. Please be safe so that you can be here. I, for one, would miss you if you were gone.

13 thoughts on “Avoiding a Heat Attack

  1. I OBSESS about this each day at the playground.
    I swear I watch other peoples kids more….hawkishly :) than their own parental units!

  2. These are great tips and things to look for. If only it would warm up here. I don’t think I will ever be in shorts again!! :)

  3. I am constantly amazed at what I see on hiking trails. People on trails in flipflops on warm/humid days carrying no water at all. But you are so right – a heart attack (or heat stroke) doesn’t care if you’re in the backcountry, on a greenway in full view of the hospital or at Disney World. Don’t be stupid, people! Neither will a heart attack allow you to look back and wish you’d done it differently!!!

  4. Oh I’m a fair weather exerciser! Not a fan of the heat OR the cold outdoors.

  5. I can never understand why people wait until the major heat of the day before they go jogging on the boardwalk here on the Jersey Shore. It can get pretty humid in July and August. Hubby and I always get out for our walk early or late in the day when it cools down a bit. Good reminder that we need to change our workout habits when the weather changes!

  6. Great tips! I always get concerned when I see people jogging at noon on sunny hot days that are sweating profusely. I hope they know what they are doing!

  7. This is such a great post!! I’ll have to share this one.
    Things we just don’t think about can make all the difference.
    It’s also a great list to use when it comes to outdoor activities with kids.

  8. I’m also a fair-weather exerciser. When it’s too hot or cold, you’ll find me indoors – generally in the pool. Fortunately here on the coast it’s not too hot in the early morning in summer and it’s light early enough to run/walk before work.

    Great advice! I never exercise without water.

  9. I have a somewhat abnormal fear of dehydration so I am vigilant when it comes to getting enough, especially when exercising!! My body is supersensitive. Great tips :-)

  10. Great advice Cammy. We have also learned this the hard way and now we try to always carry plenty of water with us. I just can’t take the heat and humidity it nearly does me in!

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