Staying Active in the Heat: Tips for Summertime Exercise

June 30, 2015

Summer officially started last week and that guarantees high temperatures and humidity throughout Georgia for the next few months. Before you lace up your shoes for an outdoor exercise activity, it’s important to know how to attain your fitness goals safely while enduring high temperatures.  

Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) fitness expert Susanne Koch, MS, ACSM-HFS, PES, worksite wellness coordinator, and Frederick Dobard, director of Community Outreach for DPH’s Maternal and Child Health Section, shared their insights and tips on how to stay fit while protecting your health in this year’s hot summer weather. 

According to Koch, consuming an adequate amount of water is one of the most important components to protecting your health when outdoors or exercising in the summer.

“Proper hydration is important to maintaining electrolyte balance in the body,” said Koch. “Electrolyte balance is critical to proper muscle function, including the heart.  Also, blood becomes more viscous – or thicker – when dehydrated and can cause the heart to work harder. This subsequently elevates the blood pressure.”

The best calculation to determine how much water you should consume is to start drinking half your body weight in ounces 24 hours prior to the exercise session, according to Koch.

Dobard recently participated in a 5K run in Georgia and used this advice to prepare for and complete the event. Monitoring his water consumption and body temperatures were vital to ensuring he could safely jog throughout the event while protecting his health.

“I filled my water bottle with filtered tap water, adding lemon juice for flavor and throughout the race took sips along the route,” said Dobard. "Also, I poured a little water on my towel and placed the cool towel on my neck to help maintain my body temperature.”

Being aware of temperatures and heat indexes in the summer is also crucial to planning outdoor exercises. Koch states that it’s particularly important to pay close attention to how temperatures change at different times throughout the day.

“Avoid exercising outside during the middle of the day, but rather in the morning or afternoon,” said Koch. “If you know that your workout is hindered by temperatures above 80 degrees, pick a shady route where paths are not exposed to the scorching sun or choose a path where there is a chance of a breeze.”

Koch also recommends making temporary adjustments to your workouts during the summer months to ensure you are taking necessary precautions to protect your health.

“Temperatures above 60 degrees Fahrenheit may affect your training output, so don’t hesitate to adjust your pace or reduce your intensity levels,” Koch said. “You can also explore starting a new exercise program during the summer to avoid strenuous physical activity in severe heat.” 

It’s important to know the warning signs of when you or someone around you needs to slow down, especially during summer walking or running events. Most often, signs of heat illness may include headache, nausea, loss of concentration or musical control and excessive sweating.

Johnna Carlson with the Kaiser Permanente Corporate Run/Walk and Fitness Program advises Georgians to not be immediately alarmed if these signs are displayed individually. However, when combinations of heat exhaustion symptoms are evident, it’s time to take action.

“When one of the symptoms of heat exhaustion is present, this is normally not a major problem unless there is significant distress,” said Carlson. “But, when several symptoms are experienced at the same time, take action because heat illness can lead to significant health problems. It’s better to be conservative: stop the workout or physical activity and take time to cool off.”

Carlson’s tip is to always use your best judgment as to whether your body is in distress due to the heat and humidity.

“An extremely effective cool-off method is to soak towels, sheets, or clothing in cool or cold water and wrap them around the individual in distress. If ice is available, sprinkle some ice over the wet cloth,” she said.  

Whether your goal is to build muscle or train for an upcoming 5K walk/run event, maintaining your overall health should be the most important aspect of your fitness goals in the summer.

These tips will come in handy for an enjoyable summer, as well as for the many DPH employees preparing for local fitness events this summer, including the upcoming Kaiser Permanente Corporate Run/Walk that will take place on Sept. 24. Employees can register now through August 24 for only $27. 

Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Extreme Heat website for more tips on how to stay safe and cool this summer. 

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The state has already experienced higher than normal temperatures, and it doesn’t look like that trend is slowing down as we enter peak summer months. As you make plans for your summertime activities, learn how to protect yourself from health issues associated with extreme heat.