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Keep Your Cool When Exercising in the Summer Heat

By Marge Dwyer
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center correspondent

When it comes to enjoying the great outdoors under the summer sun and heat, some planning and preparations can go a long way to help you and your loved ones stay safe.

"Summer is the perfect time to enjoy a hike, head for the golf course or savor a relaxing swim, but you need to take certain precautions to make sure that you stay safe," says Carine Corsaro, Exercise Physiologist at the Tanger Be Well Center at Boston's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

The warm-weather months are an ideal time to get in that recommended 30 minutes a day of moderate activity.

Fluids are Key

One of the keys is to drink enough fluids to avoid dehydration.

“Water helps regulate body temperature. If you become dehydrated, the body has no ability to cool itself and you are at risk for heat stroke,” Corsaro says.

The Aerobics Fitness Association of America recommends that adults drink eight ounces of fluid before their activity; four ounces every 20 minutes during the activity, and 16 ounces after the activity. While water, including flavored water and fruit drinks, is a fine choice, Corsaro recommends selecting a sports drink with electrolytes if you are exercising for more than an hour. Drinks like Powerade and Gatorade include nutrients like sodium and potassium to replenish electrolytes that your body uses during exercise.

“The goal is to stick to the recommended amount of fluids,” she says. Drinking too much water can dilute nutrients in the body. “You want to avoid doing anything extreme — drinking too much or too little,” she says.

Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink fluids. Drink throughout the day so you stay hydrated.

Watch for Signs of Heat Stroke

Heat stroke can be a life-threatening condition in which the body temperature rises to about 104º F (40º C) and the person may become irritable, confused or unconscious. Other symptoms include a fast heartbeat, rapid breathing, high or low blood pressure, dizziness, nausea, lack of sweating, or fainting. Those at high risk include young children, the elderly, the obese and those with cardiovascular disease. Alcohol use and certain medications also can be factors. Suspected heat stroke should be treated immediately by moving the person into the shade or air conditioning, calling 911 for emergency medical assistance, applying cool water, damp sheets and/or a fan, and having the person drink cool water if they are able.

Eat a Light Snack

You may want to eat a snack before exercising rather than consuming a large meal. Whole grains, whole-wheat products, trail mix, yogurt, dried fruit, peanut butter and low-calorie granola bars are good choices.

“You want to ingest a light and healthy snack that contains complex carbohydrates as fuel to maintain exercise,” Corsaro says.

Wear Breathable Fabrics

Dressing in breathable clothing, including socks, is important to keeping cool when walking or running in the heat.

“Choose a breathable material like Coolmax that wicks away the moisture. Unlike cotton, which absorbs moisture when you exercise, this breathable fabrics keep your feet and body cool while you are active,” Corsaro advises.

Running in sweaty, damp cotton socks can lead to friction and blisters.

Foot Sense

Be sure to wear the proper shoes for the activity. Walking and running shoes should be replaced every six months or every 300 to 600 miles.

“Remember to buy your shoes at the end of the day, because your feet swell during the day, to be sure that they will fit. Try on both shoes because your feet may be slightly different sizes. See how they feel,” Corsaro says.

A specially designed walking shoe with more cushioning and support is a good choice. If you are doing a variety of activities a cross-trainer is recommended.

“Remember not to run in wet shoes because they are less shock absorbent,” she says. “Don’t put your running shoes in the dryer because it can deform the shape of the shoe.”

Wear a Hat, Sunscreen and Sunglasses

When possible, avoid exercising in the hottest part of the day. The best time of day to walk is early morning or early evening. Don’t forget to wear sunglasses to protect your eyes, a hat (like a baseball cap with a brim) and your sunscreen. The American Melanoma Foundation recommends wearing sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 even on cloudy days because the sun can still penetrate.

Above All, Stay Safe

Make sure safety is a priority when planning a walk or jog. Corsaro offers the following walking safety tips:

  • Walk with a partner
  • Bring along your identification
  • Let people know in advance your route and when you expect to return
  • Take your cell phone or coins for a pay phone
  • Stick to a familiar route
  • Choose a busy area rather than one that's secluded or isolated
  • Walk on sidewalks
  • Wear reflective clothing

Hiking Smarts

If you are hiking this summer, be sure to stay on the trail where other people are walking rather than going off by yourself. Corsaro also advises you to be sure to bring:

  • A map and compass
  • First aid kit
  • Bug spray
  • Cell phone
  • Flashlight and extra batteries

Swimming Tips

Make sure you always swim with someone. Don't swim by yourself.

"If you are going to swim alone at the beach, make sure a lifeguard is present," she says.

Check with Your Health Professional

It's important to check with your doctor or health professional before beginning any exercise program, especially if you have an orthopedic problem or chronic disease such as diabetes.

“Physical activity can be an important tool in managing diabetes, arthritis and fibromyalgia, but it’s important to check with your doctor first before beginning an exercise program,” Corsaro says.

To schedule a consultation with the fitness and nutrition experts at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center or to inquire about programs at the Tanger Be Well Center, call 617-667-4695.

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.

Posted June 2013

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