Summer time is officially here and brings its own exercise challenges. When I lived in Dallas, it wasn’t uncommon for it be 85 degrees temps at 6:30 a.m. This is typically when I would go for my run. I really couldn’t get into lunchtime running when the temperatures were above 100 degrees. Maybe my body just innately knew that wasn’t a good idea.
After I moved to the Mountain West, I would often bike during lunch in temperatures close to or over 100 degrees. My rides were quite pleasant. With the wind from the ride and low humidity, I would return thinking that I hadn’t broken a sweat until I spied the salt line around the waistband of my bike shorts. My body was cooling off perfectly.
When exercising in hot weather is important to drink lots of water, wear clothing that will allow for easy evaporation of perspiration and time your workout to be in a cooler part of the day. Your body temperature naturally increases in response to physical activity. The blood flow to your skin increases in an effort to cool off your body. The increase in skin level circulation leaves less blood for your muscles and this increases your heart rate. If the humidity is high, your body has a more difficult time cooling itself because sweat isn’t evaporating.
Even if you take the above mentioned precautions, you need to be aware of and watch out from the following problems that can occur in hot weather:
- Heat cramps. Heat cramps are painful muscle contractions that can occur when your body temperature is normal. These cramps mainly affecting the calves, quadriceps and abdominal muscles.
- Heat exhaustion. When you have heat exhaustion, your body temperature rises, in some cases as high as 104 F. If left untreated, this can lead to heatstroke. Symptoms of heat exhaustion are:
- heavy sweating
- cold, clammy skin
- dizziness or fainting (syncope)
- a weak and rapid pulse
- muscle cramps
- fast, shallow breathing
- nausea, vomiting or both
- Heatstroke. Heatstroke is a life-threatening emergency condition that occurs when your body temperature is above 104 F (40 C). You need immediate medical attention. Symptoms of heatstroke are:
- warm, dry skin with no sweating
- strong and rapid pulse
- confusion and/or unconsciousness
- high fever
- throbbing headaches
- nausea, vomiting or both
When exercising in hot weather, it is even more important than other times to fine tune your your health regime. Following, I've listed some exercise myths and given them a special hot weather spin.
Myth 1: Heart rate monitors will let you know how hard you're working.
The conventional wisdom is that your own body is the best indicator of how hard you are working. For moderate exercisers, I believe this to be true. Moderate exercisers really don't need a heart rate monitor; tuning in to their perceived exertion level is usually an accurate measure of their exercise intensity. However, for more intense exercisers, I believe that a heart rate monitor is a good device to have especially in hot weather. Intense exercisers usually have increased their endorphin levels and subsequently may be unaware of discomfort until the discomfort levels are high. The heart rate monitor will be able to give objective feedback on how hard your heart is working to keep your body cool.
Myth: Low-intensity exercise burns more fat.
Low intensity exercise is less stressful on joints and is a necessary level when beginning an exercise program. It is true that the more intensely you exercise, the higher proportion of carbs you burn. But the important thing is that the total amount of calories burned is higher. After your body has burned up all the carbs, it starts burning fat. However, depending on the temperature, how well conditioned your body is and your tolerance for exercising in hot weather, you may find that a low intensity workout is the best option.
Myth: Your weight is the end all, be all. Weight is only one measurement of the success of your workout program. It is quite common when you start or intensify a workout routine for the scale to stay the same or go up a bit. I believe that how your clothes fit, your energy level, how you feel, your blood sugar level, your resting heart rate and your blood pressure are more important indicators than the scale. One thing to note during hot weather: if you lose a few pounds after a hard work out, you may be dehydrated. Drinking water and eating lots of green leafy vegetables -- such as kale, chard and collard greens -- will help to ensure that you are hydrated and have adequate amounts of calcium, magnesium, potassium and phosphorus. Avoid the sports drinks.
Myth: Chug a protein shake after your workout.
Protein shakes, powders and bars are a low quality food. After a workout your body needs not only protein, but also carbohydrates, fat and the micro-nutrients provided by real food. Eat a well-balanced meal or snack such as a turkey sandwich with Romaine lettuce and tomato, Greek yogurt, nuts and fruit. As stated above, the best way to replenish the important minerals lost during exercise in hot weather is to drink water and eat vegetables, especially green leafy vegetables.
Myth: No pain, no gain.
Surely whoever came up with this saying must have been referring to the discomfort of the effort in pushing your body just a little further than it is used to being pushed. There should never be real pain during a workout. This is especially true during hot weather. The ramifications of heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke are very real and can be very dangerous.
During hot weather you might want to change up your routine and try biking, swimming, treadmills or aerobics classes. While it is important to keep up your exercise routine, it is doubly important to understand the effect that heat has on your body and respect the extra stress put on your body as it tries to keep you operating at a safe temperature.