Summer, and the heat is on! This year, hot, dry winds, and scorching temperatures have been exceptionally brutal, contributing to raging wildfires across our beautiful state. Thanks to incredible firefighters and community support, the opportunity to explore spectacular Colorado wilderness has been uninterrupted. Here in Longmont, there’s always something beckoning you outdoors in spite of the heat. Whether you’re hiking, running, swimming, cycling, hitting the tennis courts, or even taking a casual stroll, however, it’s important to take high temperatures into account. Simple, common-sense precautions can make all the difference, allowing you to enjoy and improve fitness while staving off heat-related illness.
Physical activity in hot weather is more demanding on the body than more moderate temperatures. “During exercise, most blood is shunted to the muscles to fuel work,” says Adam St. Pierre, MS, and exercise physiologist at the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine. “Some [blood] must also go to the skin to dissipate heat. The way this works is, the warm blood comes close to the skin, allowing heat to dissipate into the environment. In hot conditions, more blood works to dissipate heat from the skin, resulting in in less muscle blood flow, which in turn means the heart must beat faster to maintain the cardiac output necessary to maintain a certain workload.” St. Pierre further states that as we sweat, blood volume decreases, putting additional strain on the heart.
A first step to keeping the heat from beating up on your body is awareness. Know the signs of heat-related illness, such as heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke, and how to handle them in an emergency. Even better, take steps to avoid them altogether. Time your activities to align with lower temperatures when possible, dress appropriately, apply and re-apply sunscreen, and keep fluids handy, for example.
Training, racing, or recreating, take advantage of these great guiding tips to keep you striving for your best while staying safe, from HEP Coach/endurance athlete Craig Howie:
The first and most important step in having successful training or racing in the heat is to go into the training properly hydrated. This begins at least 1 day before the training or race. A common mistake with hydration is to simply drink a lot of water. Oddly enough drinking too much water can actually cause more problems because it can flush all of the electrolytes out of your body. Drinking fluids that are rich in electrolytes are your best bet. My general recommendation is to take your body weight and divide this in half. Then take that number you get and aim to drink that many ounces of fluid in the day or two before training or racing. For example, a 150lbs. athlete will want to drink at least 75ounces of electrolyte rich fluid.
Evaporation of sweat is the main mechanism our bodies use to cool us off. We can assist our bodies with this by staying as wet as possible on the go. Keep dumping water on your head, neck and arms whenever possible. If you have access to ice, pour some in a hat and put it back on trapping the ice on top of your head. Another great place for ice is on your stomach area. If you are wearing a tight fitting shirt, you can dump ice down the front and trap it around your belly button. Keep in mind that if travelling to a more humid climate than here in CO, the ambient conditions will not allow rapid evaporation as it does here. In these conditions it very important that the fluid you use to stay wet is cold.
Gradual exposure to the heat will allow your body to adapt in many ways to help you stay cool. For example, sweat rate will increase, more red blood cells will be produced, and overall blood volume will increase. I suggest starting with small amounts of training in the heat such as 20-30minutes at first, very gradually increasing your exposure from there.
Avoid darker colored clothing as they will absorb more heat from the sun. Try to wear as much “high tech” fabrics as possible which will wick sweat away from your body and bring it to the surface where it can evaporate faster and cool you more effectively Wear a hat if possible to keep some of the sun off of your neck or face.
Try to plan a route that has a lot of shade if you know you will be out during a hotter part of the day. When planning routes for runs, keep in mind the amount of heat that radiates up from an asphalt surface is much greater than from a dirt path.