Having been cooped up in our houses for the past couple of months, getting some fresh air and a good sweat going is just what we need to stay sane. However, with the heat index rising, it’s perfectly reasonable to ask whether exercising in mid-summer heat is doing your body more harm than good. Here’s what you need to know.
How Does Your Body Handle Heat?
When you exercise in the heat, not only does your body have to regulate the heat created from your activity, but it has to regulate the heat from the outside air temperature as well. Your body uses different mechanisms to keep its core temperature at 98.6 F.
How does it do this? Our brain, specifically our hypothalamus, regulates our internal body temperature. When it senses that our temperature is getting too hot, heat is given off or sweat is produced to cool the skin. It does this by sending signals to the cells of the skin which produce sweat. Sweating, as well as telling your body hair to lie flat against the skin, are your body’s mechanisms for cooling down. These responses help transfer the heat to the surface where it can be released, cooling your internal body temperature. To be clear, it’s actually not the sweating itself that cools us down, but the act of the sweat evaporating that does. While exercising on a hot day, your body may release double the amount of sweat to attempt to keep your core temperature regulated.
When your body overheats and isn’t able to regulate this temperature efficiently, it could have serious consequences. Heat illnesses can have the following damaging side effects.
- Puts a larger burden on your heart
- Oxygen-rich blood could be blocked from reaching your brain
- Circulatory impairment
- Acute renal failure
While these side effects are more on the extreme side, the following are more commonly seen, especially in events of extreme heat.
Dehydration is when you lose more fluids or liquids than you are taking in. This prevents your body from maintaining the necessary water needed to carry out its normal functions. When you exercise in the heat, you are losing even more sweat than normal (and fast). Dehydration can also reduce your athletic performance capacity, so you may not be getting in as good of a workout. Mild cases of dehydration can cause you to lose your ability to concentrate and contribute to headaches and tiredness. Be aware of dry heat, especially in areas like Arizona. You may not recognize how much you are sweating because sweat evaporates much more quickly in dry heat.
Even when your core body temperature is normal, your risk of experiencing heat cramps is much higher when you exercise in extreme heat. These cramps, which are painful muscle contractions, usually occur in your legs, calves, quads, and abdominals.
When your internal body temperature rises above normal (around or past 104 F), you could experience signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion. These include dizziness, nausea or vomiting, confusion, weakness and/or headache. Sometimes you may even faint as a result. It might be odd, but your body actually might feel cool, clammy, or pale at this stage.
This is a very serious consequence that could happen if you are exercising in peak heat in the summer. Your skin may become hot, red, and dry. Your body temperature rises above 104 F and isn’t able to regulate itself to cool down. If you don’t get help right away, serious organ damage could occur.
Some warning signs you should look out for while working out in high temperatures are:
- Feeling Lightheaded
- Muscle cramps
- Nausea or vomiting
- Visual problems
- Excessive sweating
- Low blood pressure
- Increased heart rate
Ways To Avoid Heat Related Illnesses Due To Exercising in Mid Summer Heat
Exercise Inside The Home
There are so many options these days that allow you to get your exercise indoors. From stationary bikes to online yoga, Zumba or kickboxing classes, there’s a little bit of everything available.
Exercise Early Morning Or Late Evening
What’s a better feeling than getting up before the city wakes up to get your workout done for the day? You’ll beat the heat and be able to relax the rest of the day knowing you already got your movement in.
If you’re not a morning person, wait until late evening to get outdoors. You might even be able to see the sunset which can make you feel good as well. Who doesn’t like a beautiful sunset? This can also help you relieve any stress that might have built up from the day.
Wear Sunglasses And A Hat
Getting any sun out of your face can help to keep you cool when that sun is beating down on you. Just covering your face can cool you down a couple of degrees!
Be Aware Of The Heat Index
Some days are just too hot to get outside. Plain and simple. The risks can just be too high compared to the benefits of getting a workout in. Keep an eye on the heat index. The weather channel usually warns viewers if the heat index is concerning. Don’t let it ruin your day though. This could be a great opportunity to get an inside workout done.
Be sure to drink plenty of water before, after, and during your workout. Run with a water bottle and add ice to your water. This can help keep your mouth from drying out and help cool your body down. You should also keep water with you throughout the day to sip on to stay hydrated.
Eating hydrating foods is an easy way to get in some extra liquids too. If it’s a hot week, try incorporating more watermelon, cucumbers, celery, and citrus to your meals.
Wear Light Colored and Light Weight Clothing
Dark colors attract heat. Wear white or other light-colored clothing if you’re exercising in the sun. Wear breathable clothing that helps air get to your skin to allow the sweat to evaporate, so your body can regulate your internal temperature more easily.
Functional Medicine Practitioner, Dr. Lisa Ballehr from Mesa, AZ, offers services to help optimize your health. Whether it’s to optimize your athletic performance or to just maximize your overall wellbeing, Dr. Ballehr can help. Through functional medicine testing and lab analysis, she can develop the best plan of action that is unique to you and your body. Please schedule an appointment to get started.