Summer is officially here. Finally you can pack away your sweaters and get outside. Summer offers extras hours of daylight and with it the opportunity to spend even more time enjoying outdoor activities. For many, this means more time doing physical activities and playing sports. That's a definite positive - more physical activity equals more calories burned and more muscle tissue gained.

But, it is also important to remember the potential dangers that also come with exercising in hot conditions. As long as you know the dos and don'ts of working out in the heat, then you can fully take advantage of all the fun of summer.

What you should do:

  • Drink plenty of fluids. No matter what season it is, it's always important to stay hydrated. When the heat index is soaring, it is even more critical. If you're thirsty then you are already dehydrated; drink before you feel a need to. Be sure to drink throughout the day (stick to non-caffeinated beverages, preferably water). Also, drink 15-20 minutes before beginning your workout and every 15 minutes throughout the exercise. Adding sports drinks to your arsenal is also not a bad idea. If you plan to exercise for an extended time period outdoors, it is vital that you stay well hydrated. For example, runners should carry a water pack with them.
  • Eat regularly. The heat can decrease your appetite, but it's important to eat normally. Try to eat small meals 5-6 times per day. Include lots of fruits and vegetables. Aside from being nutritious, fruits also tend to help with hydration because of their high water content. Also, if you workout for more than 60 minutes, then you should have a carbohydrate snack handy because carbs are quickly metabolized in heat conditions.
  • Choose clothing that will help keep you cool. Wear light, loose fitting clothes that can breath. Cotton and silk are good choices. If your outdoor activity produces a lot of perspiration, consider clothing that is designed to wick the sweat away. In addition, choose light colored clothing versus darks.
  • Wear sunscreen. Even if you exercise early in the morning or late in the evening, if the sun can reach you then you can get burned. Not only is a sunburn bad on the skin and potentially dangerous but it also hinders your bodies ability to stay cool. A hat is also something to consider. It can shield your skin from sun rays and also help prevent the sun from heating up your scalp.
  • Use common sense and don't attempt strenuous activities that your body is not accustom to. Stick to exercises that you are very familiar and comfortable with.
  • Check the weather forecast. It's best not to participate in intense outdoor exercise sessions when the heat index registers in the dangerous zone.
  • Take a break. When participating in physical activity for longer periods, be sure to take frequent short breaks which can really help keep your body from overheating. Be sure to listen to your body, it does a good job of giving you cues that it is time to rest. If at anytime you feel lightheaded or nauseous, you should probably stop as that may be a sign of heat exhaustion.

What you should not do:

  • Don't try to diet by sweating. Excessive perspiration is not the key to permanent weight loss. Any decrease in the scale would simply be a result of water loss, not fat reduction.
  • Don't adapt the "no pain, no gain" motto. Ignoring your body's signals could be dangerous. Heat-related illnesses come with warning signs. Be sure to learn how to recognize them and what actions to take.
  • Don't forget to drink plenty of liquid when swimming. Use common sense. Just because your body is surrounded by water does not mean that you are well-hydrated. As with any land exercises, you need to regularly replenish lost fluids when in the pool. Also, watch the water temperature. A pool above 80 degrees may be too warm for anything more than wading in the water.
  • Avoid physical activity during the hottest part of the day, which usually is between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
  • If you want (or need) to be working in very hot temperatures, don't do it until you become acclimated. Try to spend only a few minutes per day in the hot conditions for the first couple of weeks and then add time gradually each day.
  • Avoid extreme changes in temperature. Don't hop from being extremely hot and sweating excessively right into an ice cold, air-conditioned environment. Try to cool your body down slightly before exposing it to the extreme temperature variation.

Whether you have to work outside or do it for enjoyment, following the above tips will help you stay cool and safe during the dog days of summer. So, don't spend the season cooped up, get out there and have some fun!

Copyright 2009 Lynn Bode