A beautiful sunny day is the ultimate motivation to go outside and play, but the summer heat and exercise can be a risky combination. Danine Fruge, MD, Associate Medical Director at Pritikin shares 12 tips for enjoying a safe, summer exercise program.
By Danine Fruge, MD
Associate Medical Director
Pritikin Longevity Center + Spa
1. Know when to ease up, especially if you're traveling to hot and humid climates you're unaccustomed to. Chances are, you won't be able to exercise at the intensity you normally do, and that’s okay.
I recently talked with a patient who learned the hard way. Though she normally sails through a three-mile run at home in Oregon, she barely made it through a half-mile stroll in the sticky 95-degree heat of New Orleans last week. She was surprised to realize how much – and how quickly! – the heat and humidity wore her down.
If you normally run, walk or jog. If you walk, slow your pace. As your body adapts to the heat, gradually pick up the pace and length of your workout.
If you have a medical condition and/or take prescription medications, do ask your physician if you need to take any additional precautions.
If you have Diabetes, be extra careful when exercising during hot weather. Summer Exercise Tips For Diabetics
2. Avoid the hottest part of the day. Rise early to catch the cool of the morning, or go out at sunset or later. In the heat of midday (typically between 10 am and 4 pm) take cover under shade. Jump in a pool. Sign up for an aqua-aerobics class. And carry a fan/spray bottle for skin surface cooling.
3. Wear light-colored, lightweight clothing. Dark colors absorb the heat, which can make you feel as if you’re wrapped in a warm blanket. Heavyweight, tight-fitting clothing will also heat you up. Keep it loose. Keep it light. More air will be able to circulate over your skin, keeping you cool.
4. Be sure to apply sunblock – UVA/UVB, preferably with titanium or zinc dioxide, or at least with avobenzene. Reapply at two-hour intervals, even if the labels have sweat proof and water proof claims that are hours longer. Many of these “long-lasting” claims are currently under investigation. Sunburn increases the risk of premature skin aging, and increases your risk of skin cancer. Another good way to decrease sun exposure is to wear wide-brimmed hats.
5. Drink up. Exercising in hot weather increases our body temperature. Our body’s natural cooling system can start to fail if we’re exposed to soaring temperatures for too long. The result may be heat exhaustion – that awful fatigue that makes you feel as if one more step could be your last. You may even suffer heat stroke.
If the humidity is also way up, you’re in double trouble because your sweat "sticks" to your skin; it doesn’t evaporate as readily, which can send body temperature even higher.
To keep cool, drink plenty of water. Because the Pritikin Eating Plan, full of fruits and vegetables, is so rich in water, you do not need to drink water before your workout, but while you’re exercising, drink 8 to 10 ounces of water every 20 minutes. After exercise, drink more – at minimum, another 8 ounces.
Another great way to help re-hydrate during a pause in your physical activity is to eat a piece of fruit, or even carrots or celery sticks. The fruit and veggies will also help replace valuable electrolyte loss.
6. Keep track of your hydration levels. A good way to know that you’re hydrating properly is by checking the color of your urine. If it’s pale yellow (think lemonade), you’re well hydrated. If it’s darker (heading toward the color of apple juice), drink more.
But do be aware that some medications and supplements alter the color of urine, so this gauge, while good for many, does not work for everyone. To be safe, do drink the recommended 8 to 10 ounces of water for every 20 minutes of activity.
7. Don’t drink too much. Drinking too much water, called overhydration, can lead to hyponatremia (low blood sodium). To stay hydrated but not overly so, here is our general guideline: Drink during and after exercise and other physical activities. At other times of the day, drink when thirsty.
The Pritikin Eating Plan provides enough sodium for active individuals and also provides at least half of the water your body needs.
8. Steer clear of sports drinks. They’re loaded with calories. Sports drinks are not worth the caloric weight. The Pritikin Eating Plan maintains high carbohydrate stores (glycogen). There is no need for additional supplementation.
Sport drinks should only be considered if you’re of ideal body weight and exercising for long durations at high intensities. Even then, it’s a good idea to dilute sport drinks to avoid excessive calorie consumption.
Eating fruits and vegetables during exercise provides ample electrolytes for the body, even further decreasing the need for high-calorie sport drinks.
Keep in mind that the cause of muscle cramping is more often caused by dehydration than by low electrolytes (potassium, magnesium, calcium), low salt intake, or low sugar intake. So, rather than eating excessive amounts of bananas or salty or sugary snacks, increase your water intake during and after exercise, even if you don't feel thirsty. (Use the urine-color-tracking tip described above to monitor your hydration levels.)
9. Never let yourself get to the point where you're feeling faint, dizzy, and sick. Sure, it kills you not to finish your four-mile workout. May I be so blunt as to suggest that it may kill you if you try. Paid heed to the heat. Listen to your body. If you’re feeling any of the following, find air-conditioned comfort fast.
- Dizziness/Paling of the skin
- Muscle cramps
- Nausea or vomiting
- Rapid heartbeat
Always remember that even a 20-minute workout has positive health effects. It’s the number of days you exercise that matters most, not the length of time of any given exercise session.
10. If you do feeling faint and/or sick, stop immediately. Sit down in the shade, drink water, and always have with you a nourishing snack. Pick juicy snacks like fruit. The last thing you need in scorching heat are dry snacks like crackers, popcorn, or energy bars that require your body to add water. Plus, dry snacks are often dense with calories, which mean they can easily foil weight-loss goals, summer or winter.
Know the symptoms of heat stroke. Heat stroke is a serious threat that can be fatal. Symptoms include:
- High body temperature (104 F or 40 C or higher)
- ABSENCE OF SWEATING with hot, flushed, or red/dry skin
- Rapid pulse
- Difficulty breathing
- Strange behavior
- And, if untreated, death
Sometimes there is little warning, especially among athletes training in hot, humid conditions, and among children and the elderly. Do not leave the young and frail (or anyone, for that matter, including your pets) unattended inside a hot car.
12. If you suspect that you or others are suffering heat stroke, call 911 immediately. Also, move to a shady area, drink/spray cool water, avoid alcohol or caffeine (in tea and soft drinks), apply ice packs under the armpits and groin, and fan until body temperature cools to 101 F or 38 C.