June 10, 2019 | Abby Caviness
Soaking up the summer sun is all fun and games until the intense heat ruins your fitness plans. While breaking a sweat on a hot day may be an appealing thought, heat-related illnesses are far less appealing. However, there are several ways to stay cool and keep your internal body temperature low, so you can keep training.* USHEALTH Group® wants to help you understand the risks of heat-related illnesses and how to prevent a potentially fatal situation.
According to WebMD, heat-related illnesses occur
when your body sends blood to the surface of your skin to cool itself, leaving
your brain, muscles and other organs with less blood.1 So, when you
are running outside on a hot day and your blood suddenly leaves your muscles,
your workout can take an unexpected and harmful turn. This lack of blood can
interfere with your physical strength and mental capacity, which can lead to
serious problems. While none of these heat-related illnesses correspond directly
with exercising outside and can occur just by being in a hot environment, the
physical exertion of fitness activities can accelerate the process of
Hyperthermia refers to the three heat-related conditions
characterized by high body temperature caused by external factors.2
For hyperthermia to occur, a person must have a body temperature of more than
These conditions occur in stages and vary in severity. In
fact, each stage has its own set of symptoms and at its most severe stage, can
cause death if not properly treated.
Heat Fatigue and Cramps
This is the first and least severe stage of hyperthermia and
can be categorized by the following symptoms:2
- Excessive sweating
- Flushed or red skin
- Muscle cramps, spasms, and pain
- Headache or mild light-headedness
Heat exhaustion is the second stage of hyperthermia and, if
left untreated, can lead to heat stroke, which is a life-threatening condition.
- Cold, pale, wet skin
- Extreme or heavy sweating
- Fast but weak pulse
- Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
- Muscle cramps
- Intense thirst
- Less frequent urination and dark urine
- Difficulty paying attention or concentrating
- Mild swelling of the feet and ankles or fingers
- Temporarily fainting or losing consciousness
Heat stroke is the most severe stage of hyperthermia and can
have dangerous consequences if not treated.
At this stage, the internal body temperature is above 103°F. People with
heat-related, heart and blood pressure conditions are more likely to be
affected by hyperthermia, and those with a compromised immune system are more
in danger of complications.
While many of the early signs of heat stroke are the same as
those for heat exhaustion, there are a few telltale signs of this serious
issue, such as:2
- Fast, strong pulse or very weak pulse
- Fast, deep breathing
- Reduced sweating
- Hot, red, wet, or dry skin
- Nausea, headache, dizziness
- Confusion and disorientation
- Blurred vision
- Irritability or mood swings
- Lack of coordination
- Fainting or losing consciousness
In the case of a severe heat stroke, complications include:
- Organ Failure
As you can see, the consequences of too much sun and not
giving your body what it needs can lead to extremely severe consequences.
Thankfully, there are several ways to prevent these conditions from affecting
Avoiding Heat-Related Illnesses
It is unrealistic to try and avoid the summer heat all the
time, because having fun in the sun is important for your emotional wellbeing.
However, when it comes to exercise, there are a few precautionary measures you
should take to protect yourself. For example:3
Watch the temperature
Start paying attention to weather
forecasts and heat alerts for when you are planning on being outdoors. If you
see an potentially dangerous temperature reading, avoid exercising outside and
look for alternative locations and activities.
If you are used to being inside in
a cool environment, take your time incorporating outdoor exercise. Keep in mind
it takes one to two weeks to adapt to the summer heat.
Know your fitness level
If you have just started
exercising, your level of endurance is lower than that of someone who is consistently
active. Be sure to take frequent breaks and reduce your intensity when your
body tells you to.
Drink plenty of fluids
A key ingredient for heat-related
illnesses is dehydration. Keeping hydrated can replenish the fluids in your
body you lose through sweating. In addition, if you plan on an intense workout,
sports drinks can also be incorporated to replenish the chloride and potassium
you also lose through sweating.
Wearing loose-fitting and
lightweight clothing can help to keep you cool in the summer heat. In addition,
avoid darker colors and wear a hat with a brim to shade you from the sun.
Along with the heat, the sun’s rays
can also burn and damage your skin. When you have a sunburn, your body is less
able to cool itself down and you have an increased risk of skin cancer.
Have a backup plan
When it comes time to work out and
you see the weather is hazardous for outdoor activity, be sure you have a
backup activity ready indoors. Whether you go to the gym or form a workout plan
in your home, make sure you do not push yourself, and listen to the weather to know
when it is too hot to be outside.
Avoid midday sun
The heat from the sun peaks at
midday, so moving your exercise time to the morning or night will help you avoid
the highest temperatures. However, if you need to exercise during this time,
try finding a shady area or working out in a swimming pool.
Understand your medical risks
Certain individuals have an
increased risk of heat-related illnesses, such as people who have heart
conditions, compromised immune systems, and people over the age of 65.
Additionally, certain medications can increase your risk. Be sure to contact
your doctor if you plan to exercise in the heat and have health conditions
which may put you at risk.
Exercising in the heat and ignoring the warning signs of a
heat-related illness can be potentially fatal. Therefore, it is important to
stay informed of the risks and educate yourself about ways to prevent this from
happening to you. Exercise is good for you but can be dangerous if you are not
careful. We want you to be healthy, but it is more important for you to be
material is provided by USHEALTH Group for informational/educational purposes
only and should not replace medical/clinical advice or direction from your
health care provider.
Sabrina, “The Basics of Heat-Related Illness,” WebMD.com, last modified July
20, 2017, https://www.webmd.com/first-aid/understanding-heat-related-illness-basics
- Huizen, Jennifer, “What should you know about hyperthermia?”
MedicalNewsToday.com, last modified December 5, 2017, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320226.php
- Mayo Clinic Staff, “Heat and exercise: Keeping cool in hot
weather,” MayoClinic.com, May 6, 2017, https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/exercise/art-20048167