Wellness Matters

When Exercising, Be Sure to Keep Your Cool

August 31, 2015

With school athletics becoming more competitive, athletes are compelled to train longer and begin to train earlier each year. Many sports teams require athletes to train or practice four or more hours daily.  Although conditioning is good for the body and practice is good for the mind, strenuous activity in hot conditions may have adverse effects.  This applies not only to exercising outside but also in hot gymnasiums, weight rooms and practice facilities.

Athletes need to pay attention to what their bodies tell them. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, adolescents have a lower tolerance for exercise and ability to adapt to extreme temperatures than adults.  Therefore, it is imperative for young athletes to take the time to adjust to the heat. This will minimize the risk of heat-related illness. By slowly increasing heat tolerance, athletes are better equipped to exercise safely in hot conditions. The National Athletic Trainers’ Association recommends that adolescent athletes should allow up to 14 days to become fully acclimatized, gradually building intensity and duration of work in the heat.

Here are a few tips on exercising safely in extreme temperatures:

  •         Clothing - Breathable, light-colored clothing is the best dress for physical exertion in the heat. Avoid having your clothing become saturated, as wet clothes make you more susceptible to the effects of UV light.
  •         Dehydration - Maintain awareness for symptoms of dehydration, which include: Dry mouth and eyes, not passing urine, nausea, dizziness or cramps. To avoid dehydration, drink cool water at least every 15 minutes and consider supplementing that with a sodium enriched sports drink. Also, stay hydrated during the times you are not exercising. This will make sure that you are at optimal condition when you begin your workout.
  •          Body Preparation - Make sure you are well rested, cool and following a balanced diet. This allows your body to prepare for your workout and have a quicker recovery. Keep track of your body weight before and after exercise. A properly hydrated body should lose no more than 2 percent body weight during one exercise session.
  •         Environmental Knowledge - Knowledge of the weather is crucial. Before exercising, make sure you are aware not only of the temperature, but also of the heat index. The heat index is a measure of the air temperature accounting for both heat and humidity. It is how hot it actually feels outside. Avoid exercising during the hottest part of the day (late morning-late afternoon) and limit your exposure to direct sunlight.

If you feel dehydrated, let someone know. The more exposure you have to heat without proper fluid replenishment, the more damage you may be doing to your body. Dehydration can lead to more severe heat-related illnesses such as cramping, heat exhaustion or even heat stroke.

If Suffering from Heat Related Illness, Do the Following

Heat cramps
  • Stop the workout and stretch or massage the cramping muscle
  • Drink plenty of fluids, especially fluids that replace sodium you have lost by sweating
  • Improved conditioning, heat acclamation and hydration will reduce cramping in the future

Heat exhaustion
  • Stop the workout and quickly move to a cooler environment
  • Drink plenty of fluids, especially fluids that replace sodium you have lost by sweating 
  • If condition does not improve or athlete is unable to drink fluids, take to the nearest emergency facility

Heat stroke
  • Call 911
  • Immediate medical attention is required, do not wait for help to arrive, begin cooling the athlete by any means necessary.

About the Author

Zachary Michael Smith, DO specializes in sports medicine at LeBauer Health Care at Elam Avenue, a Cone Health Medical Group practice.


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