The summer months present us with a challenge to make sure we’re exercising in the summer heat. While the extra daylight hours give us more time for outdoor activities, it’s important to exercise safely in the heat. If you’re just starting a fitness routine, make sure you discuss how weather affects your exercise with your doctor prior to beginning, especially if you’ll be exercising outdoors during the heat of the day. Additionally, keep the following topics in mind to prevent your body from overheating and to aid in your post-workout recovery.
Our Best Tips for Exercising in the Summer
The most important thing to consider during any form of exercise, especially when exercising in the summer, is hydration, because it affects the performance of your muscles and cardiovascular systems. In hot weather, you sweat more and dehydration can happen more quickly than during cooler months. Before any summer workout, particularly one that is intense and/or long, make sure you’ve consumed enough water over several hours prior to exercising. The easiest way to judge your level of hydration is to (ahem) check the color of your urine. Gold and yellow means you need more water. In fact, long distance runners are told that a light wheat shade is the maximum color your urine should have prior to a run…after all, having to stand in line for a port-a-potty is much nicer than developing heat stroke!
Keep water handy during your workout, too. Either carry it with you in the form of a water bottle or a Camelbak, or plan your exercise near available public drinking fountains. When you’re done, check your weight. If you’ve lost a pound or two since before your workout, that’s water loss and you need to do a better job of staying hydrated during your workout.
Replenish when you’re done with plenty of extra water. You really can’t drink too much water while exercising in the summer, as long as you’re also replacing electrolytes (see below).
Replenish Your Electrolytes
Electrolytes help your body do its job, but you lose them on hot days through sweat. As sodium and potassium (and other electrolytes) are depleted, you lose even more fluids, resulting in a cycle of increasing concern. Other symptoms of electrolyte loss are diarrhea and vomiting, headaches, and muscle cramps. To combat electrolyte loss, replenish with foods or supplements that are high in the minerals you’re losing. For example, bananas are high in potassium, and canned coconut water (NOT coconut milk!) is a super natural source of electrolytes. You can also choose salt tablets or supplements like Hammer Endurolytes. Sports drinks will also suffice, but keep in mind that many are also high in sugar or artificial sweeteners that may not suit your wellness goals or lifestyle. Just remember that your body needs more of these when it’s hotter, such as when exercising in the summer.
Work Out Early or Late
Whenever possible, try to schedule your workouts for the early morning or after the sun goes down, when temperatures are cooler and direct sunlight isn’t an issue. This is especially for longer workouts, when you push your body to even higher temperatures. During the middle of the day, temperatures are hottest and the sun’s rays are most direct. If you must workout during the intense midday heat, stay in the shade as much as possible.
Wear Light Clothing and Sunscreen
Lighter-weight clothing, such as tank tops, sports bras, and running shorts keep you cooler than heavier fabrics while exercising in the summer. In addition to lighter-weight clothing, also choose lighter colors, which reflect the suns rays better than darker shades. If you live in a location where the temperature climbs during your workout, wear layers, such as a jacket that can easily be removed. Recognize that shoes and hats can also trap body heat, so look for vented head coverings and shoes. For example, a sun visor will keep your skin safe while still allowing heat to escape from your scalp.
Using a wide-spectrum, high-UV index sunblock is also important. Choose one that is sweat-proof. If you’ll be spending a lot of time in the direct sun, you may also want to consider zinc oxide, particular for your cheeks and nose. Make sure to reapply as needed, particular if you’re spending time in the pool, lake, or ocean. Remember, sun damage goes far beyond mere sunburn, and increasing your chances for skin cancer is never worth it.
Have an Escape Plan
Recognize that sometimes you may just not be able to go as long as you wanted. Either exercise near your home or where you’ve parked your car so that you can easily escape, or have a friend or family member “on call” to come pick you up if you find yourself overheated and far from home.
Overall, it’s important to know signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke and to keep track of how you feel during your workout. According to WebMD, heat exhaustion consists of general fatigue, weakness, nausea, dizziness, muscle cramps, and an increase in body temperature. Heat stroke, which is much more serious, involves body temperatures above 104, an inability to sweat, acute respiratory distress, and loss of consciousness. Don’t ever risk pushing yourself into these situations just to get in one more mile or one more game. Instead, do everything you can to avoid heat stroke. When exercising in the summer, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.