Rules for exercising in the summer heat

Special to the Sun-Gazette

July is the warmest month of the year. Therefore, exercising in July calls for preparation and willingness to alter activities based on the temperature and humidity.

Preparation comes in the form of fluid intake for the individual and emergency preparedness for the site of the activity. Fluid intake is key to offset the loss of fluid through sweat. Water intake must occur not only before, during and after the activity but also throughout the day. To maintain proper hydration levels, it’s best to drink at regular intervals throughout the day. Beginning an activity while dehydrated accelerates the process of heat-related illness. The best rule of thumb is to monitor the color of your urine; the clearer the better. As for emergency preparedness, every athletic organization should have an emergency action plan for obtaining emergency medical services. All on-site personnel should know and be able to execute the plan. The ability to execute the plan could save a person’s life.

Your willingness to change or modify your activity based on the weather could be the best way to ensure your safety. Be aware of temperature and humidity levels. As the temperature and humidity levels rise, make wise decisions about the type, timing and location of activity as well as your attire. Team practices or individual activities may need to be modified, with intense activities scheduled for the morning or evening. For sports requiring protective equipment, practicing without the equipment may be necessary. Scheduling more frequent breaks during sessions to allow time for fluid consumption is very important.

Children sweat less than adults, so it is best to slowly acclimate them to the heat. This means taking regular breaks and making sure each child is drinking fluid during these breaks (as some children may not drink unless told). Parents need to make sure that children are frequently and regularly drinking fluids even when they are not exercising outdoors.

Heat illness can be classified into four categories, and one category can lead to the other if not recognized and treated appropriately. The categories are:

Exercise associated muscle cramps

Heat syncope

Heat exhaustion

Heat stroke

Muscle cramps can occur during or after activity, and are caused by dehydration and/or electrolyte imbalances. Heat syncope is a fainting episode that someone can experience in high environmental temperatures, usually during the initial days of heat exposure.

Heat exhaustion is when the body loses large amounts of fluids that are not replenished. The signs include weakness, dizziness, headache, nausea and pale skin. Heat stroke is a true medical emergency and occurs when the body loses too much fluid due to sweating, and shuts down the sweat mechanism to protect the vital organs. This causes an unsafe increase core body temperature (greater than 104 degrees), and if not corrected will lead to death. Signs of heat stroke include dry skin (as the body is no longing sweating), altered mental status, seizures and vomiting. The key is to recognize all of these early and take appropriate treatment measures. In cases with muscle cramps or heat syncope, rehydrate and remove from activity until symptoms resolve. In the event of heat exhaustion or heat stroke medical personnel must be contacted.

To exercise in hot weather safely remember to:

Limit the intensity and duration of the activity

Increase the number and length of breaks

Maintain proper hydration levels

Modify activity during high heat and humidity conditions

For more information, contact Susquehanna Health Sports Medicine at 1-800 321-2WIN.

Kinley is the Coordinator of Susquehanna Health Sports Medicine. For more information about Sports Medicine related injuries, call 320-7456.