It’s summer and it’s hot. What’s new? Whether you’re taking a run on the greenway, your son has football camp for the upcoming season, or your kids are playing in the yard, it’s important to exercise caution when getting out and about in the heat. Exercise combined with high temperatures and high humidity levels cause your body temperature to rise, speed your heart rate, and increase your chance of heat-related illness.
But it doesn’t have to cause problems. Here’s what to look out for and what you can do to prevent heat-related health issues.
It starts with heat cramps. Your muscles (usually your calves, thighs, or shoulders) tighten up and jerk or spasm. These spasms don’t last long and normally go away on their own, but they can be quite painful. Why does this happen? Most likely you’re exercising in hot temperatures and you’ve lost too much fluid and electrolytes from your muscles.
You may have seen runners cross the finish line only to pass out. Most likely they’ve experienced heat syncope and collapse, another form of heat-related illness. Symptoms include dizziness, headache, nausea, elevated heart rate, and fainting. As your body lacks fluids and tries to cool itself in the heat, blood vessels dilate in an effort to send extra blood to the surface of the skin. When this happens, less blood reaches the brain and puts you at risk for fainting.
Further down the scale of heat-related illness is heat exhaustion. Under normal circumstances, your body’s able to regulate its core temperature at around 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. In warm weather, your body sweats in an effort to cool itself. But when it’s super hot and humid, your sweat isn’t able to evaporate off your skin efficiently and your body temperature rises. When it increases to 104 degrees Fahrenheit, heat exhaustion sets in. This dangerous condition may cause headache, nausea, a rapid heart rate, weakness, and cold, clammy skin. Without immediate treatment, you’re at risk for heatstroke.
As your body temperature continues to rise past 104 degrees Fahrenheit, heatstroke sets in. Someone who’s having a heatstroke will stop sweating, be confused, irritable, dizzy, nauseated, or weak; have trouble seeing; and have an irregular heartbeat. If you are experiencing these symptoms, be sure to seek immediate medical care.
Don’t ignore symptoms of heat-related illness and watch for signs of heat-related illness in others around you. Any time you experience heat cramps, heat syncope, or heat exhaustion, it’s vital that you take the steps necessary to lower your body temperature and rehydrate immediately. Symptoms of heatstroke require emergency medical attention.
To help your body fend off heat-related distress, get to a cooler location and stop exercising. Take off extra clothes, put cool, wet clothes or ice on your forehead or neck, get in a cool shower, and drink plenty of water or sports drink. When these methods don’t improve your condition after half an hour, call your doctor.
Better than treating heat problems is not letting your body get overheated in the first place. When it’s hot outside, stay indoors (like at a well air conditioned boot camp!) Pay attention to the heat index (a combination of air temperature and humidity level) rather than the temperature, and use extreme caution when the heat index is over 90 degrees Fahrenheit. While exercising, take frequent breaks, lower your intensity, and drink plenty of water or sports beverages. And don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink. Instead, plan to drink every 15 minutes. You ought to also wear lightweight, light-colored clothes that let your skin breathe.
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