The arrival of summer weather gives you the opportunity to get back into the outdoor activities you missed during the colder months, whether that’s working in the garden, taking that long-awaited active vacation, or traveling to a summer sports competition. However, when the weather gets too hot, active fun in the sun can be dangerous.
This article explains how heat stress can affect your body, plus 5 easy ways to stay cool during your summer activities.
Heat Stress: How Heat Affects the Body
Heat stress refers to the strain hot conditions can put on your body. This type of stress can be triggered by high summer temperatures or vigorous outdoor workouts. When your body can’t cool down, various changes take place, from a raised core temperature to an elevated heart rate.
There are several heat stress-related illnesses that could affect people who plan to get active outdoors, explains a review in Physiological Reviews. These illnesses may be a serious issue for people who plan to get active in new locations with climates they’re not acclimated to. Some illnesses to watch out for this summer include:
- Heat cramps. These painful muscle spasms may strike athletes who are performing high-intensity exercise in hot weather. Heat cramps often affect the muscles in the arms, abs, calves, or back.
- Heat rash. Also known as prickly heat, this itchy or painful rash can be caused by sweating a lot in hot weather. It looks like a cluster of tiny pimples and could form in skin folds or in areas covered by clothing.
- Heat syncope. Heat syncope refers to dizziness or fainting episodes that can happen in hot weather. It may happen at the end of a workout or when athletes stand up suddenly.
- Heat exhaustion. Heat exhaustion is a precursor to heat stroke. Telltale signs of this condition include fatigue, dizziness, and heavy sweating, and athletes may feel unable to continue their workout.
- Heat stroke. This life-threatening heat illness happens when a person’s core body temperature exceeds 40°C (104°F). Signs of heat stroke may include vomiting, disorientation, loss of balance, or a rapid heart rate. If you notice these signs, seek immediate medical attention.
Ways to Stay Cool and Enjoy Summer Workouts
Exercising in hot weather can put you at risk of heat-related illnesses, including heat stroke. Fortunately, there are many ways to stay cool and comfortable this summer.
1. Work Out During Cooler Times of Day
As the temperature increases, so does the risk of heat-related illnesses. The expected incidence of heat-related illnesses doubles when the temperature rises from 25°C to 35°C (77°F to 95°F), according to an analysis published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, and distance athletes had a higher incidence rate.
To beat the heat, schedule your workouts for the early morning or late evening when temperatures tend to be lower. If that’s not possible, choose a cooler environment (like a shaded trail), opt for a shorter workout, or move your workout indoors.
2. Ease Into Hot Weather Activities
When you’ve been looking forward to summer, it’s tempting to jump right into high-intensity activities. However, since not being used to hot weather is a risk factor for heat-related illnesses, try to pace yourself and give your body time to get acclimated. This is especially important if you’ll be vacationing or competing in an unfamiliar climate this summer.
A recent study published in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine shows the importance of heat acclimatization. Among varsity football players, the risk of exertional heat illness was 23.7 times higher in the first 19 practices of the season than in the remaining 44 practices.
3. Remember to Stay Hydrated
Drinking cool water during your workouts isn’t just refreshing; it could help you reduce the risk of heat-related illnesses like heat exhaustion. When you’re well-hydrated, your body can produce sweat, which helps you stay cool.
How much water do you need during summer workouts? In its most recent statement on heat illness, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends planning to drink enough fluids to stay within 2% of your baseline body weight.
4. Choose Summer Clothing Wisely
When spending time in the summer heat, what you wear matters. Loose-fitting clothing may help your body stay cool, according to a review published in Sports Medicine – Open. That’s because it lets air flow across your skin.
Fabric choice can have an impact, too, but more research is needed to determine the best fabric for specific activities. Cotton, wool, and synthetic fabrics all have pros and cons. Choose clothing that keeps you feeling cool and comfortable.
5. Take a Dip in Cool Water
After working up a sweat outdoors, you may be eager to return to an air-conditioned space. While chilly indoor air can help you cool down after a workout, research shows soaking in cold water works even faster.
In a study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, researchers investigated methods of cooling people who’d overheated through exercise. They discovered that it took participants nearly 23 minutes to cool down in cool indoor air with temperatures between 20°C and 22°C (68°F to 72°F). In contrast, a dip in cold water with a temperature of 14°C (57°F) cooled the participants in just 2.16 minutes.
Stay Cool With Ice Baths
On hot summer days, a cold plunge is a fast, convenient way to cool down. Learn more about how cold water immersion works and how to get started with ice baths.