Staying Safe & Fit

In The Summer Heat

Summer is a wonderful time for exercise. Gym rats can switch gears for a few months and trade in their treadmills and elliptical trainers for sidewalks and hiking trails. They can hop off their stationary bike and hit the open road, enjoying the East Tennessee summer scenery that we all know is second to none. The sunshine and warm weather provide a welcome respite from the cooler days of winter, but there is danger in those rays of sun and hot temperatures.

Heat-related illnesses are all too common during the summer months. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heat-related illnesses are the result of elevated body temperatures due to an inability to dissipate the body’s heat and/or decreased fluid level. These illnesses include heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heatstroke. They can range from mild to severe and, if left untreated, can have serious ramifications – including death. Awareness of the symptoms, causes and treatment of heat-related illnesses is important and can go a long way toward avoiding health problems.

Even if you are in peak physical condition, heat-related illnesses are a real possibility if the conditions are right. According to the Mayo Clinic, exercising in the heat puts extra stress on your heart and lungs. Both the exercise and the air temperature increase your body temperature. To dissipate heat, more blood circulates through your skin. This leaves less blood for your muscles, which increases your heart rate.

sweating female athlete

Temperature is not the only factor. Humidity plays a significant role because it can cause the sweat on your body to evaporate at a slower rate than normal and consequently increase the body’s temperature. Humidity is a way of life in East Tennessee in the summertime, so Chattanoogans must use extra precaution when braving the elements during the summer months.

Many athletes tend to expect too much of their well-toned bodies and push themselves as hard as they normally would – even if the temperatures are twice as high. The key is to be aware that heat-related illnesses can affect anyone, regardless of what shape they are in. If the humidity and temperature are both at very high levels, it is probably a good idea to skip the run outside and enjoy your workout indoors.

If you choose to workout outdoors during the hot summer months, it is important to be aware of the symptoms of heat-related illness. The Mayo Clinic recommends that you keep an eye out for the following signs:

  • Weakness
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Muscle Cramps
  • Nausea or Vomiting
  • Rapid Heartbeat

If you notice any of these symptoms, it is important that you get out of the heat immediately and stop exercising. You need to hydrate yourself with water and, if possible, wet your skin and fan yourself. The symptoms will typically abate if you take these actions, but the Mayo Clinic staff recommends that you seek medical attention immediately if you develop a fever higher than 102 degrees or become faint or confused.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. This is an old adage that we’ve all heard and there is a reason we are so familiar with this phrase: it is absolutely true. If you want to avoid the dangers of heat-related illness, nothing works better than good old-fashioned prevention.

There is nothing wrong with getting out in the summer sun and enjoying a workout. Just know enough to stay safe, and work your body up to the heat before going full throttle with your workouts.

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