How to safely exercise in the summer heat

If you many fitness-related blogs, you’ve probably seen a fair number of posts on how to run or exercise through the summer heat.  You may also be thinking that I’m late to the game, as it is already a week into August (incidentally, average temperatures in the US are a degree or two cooler in August than in July, but in Texas we’ve certainly gotten a bump in temperatures over the past week).  Well, bear with me, because I have a few tips to share.  Hopefully they’ll keep you just a bit cooler (and safer) over the next few weeks, and then we’ll all be gifted with some wonderful Fall running weather :). running summer thelyonsshare(picture source)

  1. Hydrate. You likely know that water is even more important in hot weather.  I’ve seen estimates on how much you “should” consume from 8 ounces all the way up to 64 ounces per hour, but I think the bottom line is that each body is different.  I can’t run outside in the heat without a few small sips of water every 20 minutes or so, but I’m probably not consuming 8 full ounces per hour.  Kevin can run for an hour midday without even thinking about stopping for water, while another excellent runner might throw back several bottles during that time.  You know your body best – if you start to feel light-headed or dizzy, get a headache or chills, or just feel “off,” chances are you need some water.  Regardless of how much you consume during exercise, be absolutely sure to rehydrate after exercising in the heat.  It is very hard to dig yourself out of the hole of serious dehydration, so be sure you’re replenishing your lost fluids as quickly as possible when you return.
  2. Choose your time of day wisely.  Mornings or evenings, when the sun isn’t directly overhead, are much more accommodating to runners and exercisers than the brutal mid-afternoons.  If both of those work for your schedule, how do you choose?  Again, I think this one depends on your own body – I much prefer the cooler (but more humid) mornings before the day gets hot, whereas Kevin often chooses the hotter (but less humid) evenings.  Whichever you choose, do your best to avoid direct sunlight and seek shade whenever possible.
  3. Set proper pace expectations.  Simply put, it’s impossible to exercise at the same intensity and duration during extremely hot weather as you would in cooler weather.  You must come to accept – and deal with – this fact.  Most research concludes that for every 10 degree increase above 55 degrees, your marathon finishing time will worsen by 1.5-3%.  If you’re running in 95 degree weather like I am in Dallas, that equates to a big difference, even if you’re not running a marathon!
  4. Cool off your pulse points. I have no idea where I first heard this, but ever since I did, I’ve been splashing water from each water fountain I stop at on the back of my neck and my wrists.  Whoever told me this wasn’t crazy, as these are two common pulse points, where your blood vessels are closer to the surface of your skin, allowing you to cool down more quickly.  Try splashing any of these points with cool water as often as you can to avoid overheating.
  5. Dress appropriately.  Wear light-colored, light-weight, moisture-wicking fabrics when you’re exercising outdoors in the heat.  While I don’t have flashy or expensive workout gear, moisture-wicking fabrics are extremely important to me, as they keep me feeling cooler and drier than I would be otherwise.  Some also like hats and/ or visors to provide some relief from the sun.  And even though it won’t cool you off, be sure to put on sunscreen if you’ll be in the sun for an extended period of time.
  6. Consider breaking your workout into short bursts.  This is something that doesn’t work for my schedule – I generally have to work out all in one session before work for the day.  I also feel better if I’m able to get in a cardio workout that keeps my heart up for more than 10 minutes.  However, a new study has been in the news lately, showing that the overall time spent exercising is more important than duration of each session.  So, if you’re struggling to beat the heat, why not break your workout into several short bursts to keep you from overheating?
  7. Don’t be afraid to head indoors.  I’ve mentioned before how I hate the treadmill.  It is pretty boring, and so hard to watch the time click away so slowly.  However, if you can’t exercise safely in the heat of the day, the treadmill, the gym, an online workout video, some limited-equipment at-home workouts from my Pinterest boards, or a fun new exercise class may be the safest way to go.  Plus, variety in your workouts is always a good thing, so don’t get upset if the heat throws a wrench in your plans every once in a while.

So tell me in the comments …  any other tips for exercising safely in the heat?  If you’ve kept up with the 30-day Squat Challenge, you’re coming up on the end!  How did it go for you?  (It’s been a fun challenge for me, and I think I got stronger!)

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3 Comments

  1. gary on August 7, 2013 at 12:05 pm

    Assuming one survives his or her exercise session in the summer heat, I have found that a plunge into a pool or a cold shower rinse off really helps to lower the body’s core temperature and accelerate recovery.

    • Megan Lyons on August 7, 2013 at 12:07 pm

      Yes! That’s a great one! I’m a baby about cold showers (although I did several ice baths while training for marathons!), but you’re right that this definitely speeds recovery, and helps you stop sweating!

  2. The Hottest Half | The Lyons' Share Wellness on August 25, 2013 at 12:19 pm

    […] always known that I am super affected by heat when exercising, and even though I follow my tips for exercising in the heat, I know that my body doesn’t handle it well, and I just need to slow down to be safe.  […]

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