Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Seven tips to avoid heat stroke this summer!

It’s one of the most frustrating—and ultimately, dangerous—catch 22’s of the summer. On the one hand, regular exercise is critical—even a simple 30 minute walk every day can have a major impact on your health—and this season’s long days are virtually tailor-made for spending extra time outdoors.

Trouble is, even a short walk can be a challenge in the thick of the summer… when temperatures and humidity are soaring, and the sun is blazing.

It’s an undeniable fact that exercising in hot weather can put extra stress on your heart and lungs. Both the exercise itself and the temperature of the air increase your body temperature—and in order to reduce that heat, more blood circulates through your skin. This in turn leaves less blood for your muscles, which increases your heart rate. And if the humidity is high, your body faces added stress because sweat doesn't readily evaporate from your skin—a factor that can push your body temperature even higher.

Under normal conditions, your skin, blood vessels, and perspiration level will adjust to the heat… but these natural cooling systems may fail if you're exposed to high temperatures and humidity for too long. The result may be more benign heat-related symptoms, like cramps… or illnesses that can be far more severe, like heat exhaustion or heatstroke.

So what can you do to keep yourself safe and active for the remainder of the hot summer months? To avoid heat-related illnesses, just keep these basic precautions in mind:

  • Take it slow. If you're used to exercising indoors or in cooler weather, take it easy at first. As your body adapts to the heat, gradually increase the length and intensity of your workouts. If you have a chronic medical condition or take medication, ask your doctor if you need to take additional precautions.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. Your body's ability to sweat and cool down depends on adequate re-hydration. Drink plenty of water while you're working out—even if you don't feel thirsty. If you're planning to exercise intensely or for longer than one hour, consider sports drinks instead. These drinks can replace the sodium, chloride, potassium, and electrolytes that are lost through sweating. Avoid drinks that contain caffeine or alcohol, which actually promote fluid loss.
  • Dress appropriately. Lightweight, loose fitting clothing promotes sweat evaporation and cooling by letting more air pass over your body. Avoid dark colors, which can absorb the heat. A light-colored hat can limit your exposure to the sun.
  • Avoid midday sun. Exercise in the morning or evening—when it's likely to be cooler outdoors—rather than the middle of the day. If possible, exercise in the shade or in a pool.
  • Wear sunscreen. Sunburn decreases your body's ability to cool itself.
  • Have a backup plan. If you're concerned about the heat or humidity, stay indoors. Work out at the gym, walk laps inside a mall or climb stairs inside an air-conditioned building.
Ultimately, the most important advice I can offer is to watch for signs of distress: weakness, headache, dizziness, muscle cramps, nausea or vomiting, and rapid heartbeat are just a few symptoms to look out for. Always stop exercising immediately at the first hint of a heat-related illness… get yourself out of the heat… and of course, make sure you drink plenty of water.

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