Summer is officially here and, as is normal in Albany, we can expect many hot, sweltering days ahead. In the excessively warm and often humid conditions that frequently occur in the summer months, heat stress can be a real threat for individuals who engage in intense exercise activities. This especially applies to exercising outdoors without the benefit of air conditioning.
During the pandemic, many of us have turned to exercising outdoors. Be aware that exercise in hot, humid conditions can cause significant dehydration in a short period of time. To avoid heat injury, an individual should take precautions regarding hydration, acclimatization, and proper clothing. The following guidelines will lay out specifics in each of these three areas.
Hydration: The American College of Sports Medicine recommends the following hydration guidelines. Check your hydration status before exercise because there is a wide variability in fluid needs for each person. Before exercise:
♦ Drink 16-20 fluid ounces of water or sports beverage at least four hours before exercise.
♦ Drink 8-12 fluid ounces of water 10-15 minutes before exercise. Consuming a beverage with sodium (salt) and/or small meal helps to stimulate thirst and retain fluids.
♦ Drink 3-8 fluid ounces of water every 15-20 minutes when exercising for less than 60 minutes.
♦ Drink 3-8 fluid ounces of a sports beverage (5-8 percent carbohydrate with electrolytes) every 15-20 minutes when exercising greater than 60 minutes. Do not drink more than one quart/hour during exercise.
♦ Obtain your body weight and check your urine to estimate your fluid losses. The goal is to correct your losses within two hours after exercise.
♦ Drink 20-24 fluid ounces of water or sports beverage for every pound lost.
Athletes often ask about the temperature of fluids consumed during exercise. Cold water is refreshing and better manages core temperature because it pulls heat from your body as it warms to body temperature. Extremely cold water is sometimes difficult to consume in large quantities, but since your water bottles will warm up quickly, it’s still good to start out with cold bottles or an ice/water mixture on very hot days. Warm water will get the job done, too; it’s just not as refreshing and doesn’t do much to lower core temperature immediately. Whether cold or warm, it’s still important to consume enough fluid because it contributes to the sweat that cools your body through evaporation.
Acclimatization: An individual should become acclimatized to the environment to greatly reduce the risk for heat injury. Acclimatization, the body’s gradual adaptation to changes in environment, usually takes 10-14 days of heat exposure combined with exercise.
Following acclimatization, individuals will sweat sooner, produce more sweat, and lose fewer electrolytes in their sweat. The net effects of acclimatization are a lower body core temperature, a decreased heart rate response to exercise, and less dehydration and electrolyte depletion. During the acclimatization period, individuals should lower the intensity level of their exercise bout to decrease the heat load and gradually increase intensity over time as the body adapts.
Clothing: Wear clothing that is comfortable for you. Don’t force yourself to sweat more than is natural for your body. Sweat suits are common for athletes trying to make weight for their event, but in no way does a sweat suit help you burn more calories. What you are really losing is water, and the minute you start drinking again you will put those pounds back on.
Even worse than overdressing is wearing plastic or rubberized suits that prevent the evaporation of sweat from the skin and thereby increase the risk of heat injury. According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular risk increases when the relative humidity rises above 70%, and the humidity in those suits hovers around 100%.
Losing weight depends on the number of calories burned compared to the number of calories consumed. A suit, while temporarily reducing the weight showing on the scale, will not help you burn more calories, which is the key to true weight loss. The same can be said of saunas and steam rooms. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you can get lean through passive sweat. If that were true, with our hot, humid days, nobody living in Albany would be overweight. By following these guidelines, you can safely stay in shape over the long summer months while keeping your cool.