Exercising in Warm Weather
A how-to guide to stay healthy during the summer heat
Originally written on 7/20/2017 by NovaCare Rehabilitation and Select Physical Therapy. Updated 7/27/2023 to include new data and information.
The dog days of summer are upon us. You know what kind of days we’re talking about.
Air so thick you have to carve it with a knife.
And this summer heat is peaking just in time for fall pre-season sports training for high school and collegiate athletes.
The good news is that you don’t have to stop exercising outside just because of the sweltering temperatures, but you do have to prepare, respect the outside elements and follow some easy tips.
Acclimate before you activate
As much as everyone wants to enjoy the sunshine, be outside and get back on the field of play, athletes of all ages and activity levels must prepare themselves to train in the heat.
Prior to the beginning of summer practices, athletes must go through what is called acclimatization.
Acclimatization is the process where the body adapts to heat in order to work most efficiently. To begin this process, an athlete must begin training in the “hotter” temperatures.
However, this must be done in a safe manner.
Meaning, don’t train in peak heat conditions.
Beat the heat
To help you acclimate while also enjoying your favorite summer sports and activities, here are a few tips.
- When possible, avoid outdoor exercise between the hours of 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. as that is considered the hottest part of the day. Limit high-intensity workouts to early morning or early evening hours when the sun’s radiation is minimal.
- Activity during the hottest parts of the day will increase heat gain through the skin from the sun and decrease heat loss through the skin. This means the body is unable to disperse heat as fast as the body heats up — so choose your outdoor time wisely.
- Stay hydrated by drinking a glass or two of water before you head outside. If possible, carry a bottle of water or a hydration pack with you and take a drink every 15 minutes, even if you’re not thirsty.
- Pay attention to the color of your urine. Pale and clear means you’re well hydrated; if it’s dark, you need to drink more fluids. Depending on your age and gender, athletes should be drinking a minimum of 11–16 cups of fluid per day.
- Water is usually the best option, but adding a sports drink into the mix for electrolytes can also help.
- Proper nutrition supports sports performance and recovery. Fruits are a great source of carbs and extra hydration, so eat up.
- Wear clothing that’s light in color, lightweight and has vents or mesh. Microfiber polyesters and cotton blends are good examples. The lighter colors will help reflect heat and cotton material will help with the evaporation of sweat.
Water sports – A remedy for being active in the heat
The summer heat means that many are headed to the nearest body of water with kayaks, surf boards and paddle boards.
Water sports are an excellent way to get in exercise and challenge our upper and lower body strength and balance.
Make a big splash
Here are a few tips to keep in mind for the water sports novice and seasoned pro alike.
- Always get in an adequate warm-up. While the temperatures may be warm, it doesn’t mean our muscles are. Dynamic stretches, like trunk twists, walking lunges and arm and leg swings, are a great way to get your blood circulating and muscles warm before hitting the water.
- Since water sports are heavily dependent on our shoulders, it’s important to strengthen those muscles to avoid repetitive stresses and impingements. Try arm circles, cross-arm stretches and wall slide exercises.
- Don’t forget the rotational mobility of your mid-back. Kayaking and other paddle sports involve a lot of thoracic spine rotation in order to propel you forward. Make sure you’re able to twist from side to side without pain.
- Last but not least is balance. Balance is an important part of maintaining an upright position while on the water. Practice standing on one leg at home. Once you’ve mastered that, try standing on a foam cushion and closing your eyes. Make sure you have someone or something nearby to hold onto in case you lose your balance.
When to call it a day
Sometimes, even when you have the best of intentions, you simply can’t beat the heat. Sometimes the heat beats you.
You're sweating. Your skin feels moist and flushed. You've got a headache. You feel dizzy, nauseous and exhausted, but your body temperature is near normal.
You may not realize it, but you're suffering from heat exhaustion.
This typically occurs as a result of excessive heat and dehydration. Blood flow to the skin increases, causing blood flow to the vital organs to decrease. The outcome is a form of mild shock, which can lead to heat stroke if left untreated.
Heat exhaustion vs. heat stroke
Heat illnesses are serious business.
They need to be taken seriously and treated quickly.
The main difference between heat exhaustion and heat stroke is core body temperature and symptoms. However, the common thread is that your body overheats and can’t cool itself down.
The telltale signs of heat exhaustion are:
- Body temperate of 101-104 F
- Pale skin
- Muscle cramping
- Rapid breathing/heart rate
If you suspect you or someone you know may have heat stroke, move to a cooler environment, preferably an air conditioned room. Loosen your clothing and remove any additional layers. Apply cool, wet cloths or sit in a cool bath. Take small sips of water to rehydrate.
And while heat exhaustion is quite serious, heat stroke is life threatening and requires immediate medical attention.
With heat stroke, symptoms can include:
- Body temperature above 104 F
- Dry, red skin
- Inability to sweat
- Confusion/altered mental status
- Dizziness or fainting
- Slurred speech
If someone you know is suffering from heat stroke, call 911 or go to a hospital immediately. Move the person to a cooler place, and immerse them in a cool bath or wrap wet sheets around their body and fan it. Make sure the person lies down, and watch for breathing difficulties.
Don't give the victim anything to eat or drink if they are vomiting or their level of consciousness changes.
Heat exhaustion and heat stroke can lead to death, so every moment counts.
The most important thing is to stay well-hydrated, make sure that your body can get rid of extra heat and be sensible about exertion in hot, humid weather. The hotter and more humid it is, the harder it will be for you to get rid of excess heat.
Tip: Pay particular attention to the heat index—a measure that combines air temperature and relative humidity to determine how hot it actually feels outside. The higher the heat index, the more caution you should take when exercising outside.
Stay cool and have fun
The summer season provides so many great ways to be outside, stay active and have plenty of fun. Keeping these tips in mind and putting safety first will ensure you’re reaching your activity goals.
And, if you’re outside or in the water having all that fun and happen to suffer an injury, a physical therapist can provide the necessary treatment to help you heal. Request an appointment to work with one of our movement experts near you.
Have a great summer!