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Summer's Health Hazards, Part 6 - Exercising in the Heat

July 02, 2017

Exercise is healthy.

But, it can also become one of “Summer’s Health Hazards,” especially when combined with the heat.

“Don’t underestimate the power of exercise,” said Dr. Julio Martinez-Silvestrini, sports medicine specialist and medical director, Baystate Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, who noted it’s not just about controlling your weight.

Exercise makes you feel good

“Exercise is one of the most important things you can do for your health from boosting your energy to reducing stress and from improving your mental health to helping prevent a variety of health problems, such as heart disease and some cancers. And, it just plain makes you feel good,” he added.

There can be no denying that the warmer weather months inspire many to hit the trails for a power walk or run, embark on a cycling adventure, or engage in sports like softball, basketball or tennis. But, it’s on days when the thermometer really begins to rise that trouble can set in risking heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

“Hot days with no breeze or cloud cover tend to be more concerning for heat-related illnesses,” said Dr. Martinez-Silvestrini.

“Your body generates heat when you exercise, and just like a car does when running, it begins to heat up. Sweating helps to decrease your body temperature through the process of evaporation. That is one of the reasons why on a still day, there is a high risk of heat-related illnesses,” he added.

Tips to stay cool

Dr. Martinez-Silvestrini offers the following tips to stay cool and safe when exercising in extreme heat and humidity:

  • Get your physical activity in, such as walking or running, during the early morning hours before the temperatures really rise, avoiding the warmest part of the day, usually between 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
  • Hydrate! Hydrate! Hydrate! The American College of Sports Medicine recommends drinking a minimum of 16-20 ounces of liquid one to two hours before your outdoor activity. Once outside, they recommend consuming 6 to 12 ounces of fluid every 10 to 15 minutes. Then, when you have completed your workout, drink at least another 16 to 24 ounces. Signs of dehydration in adults include being thirsty, urinating less often than usual, dark-colored urine, dry skin, feeling tired, dizziness and fainting. There is a concern about over-hydrating in low-intensity activities, when it is usually enough to drink fluids when you get thirsty. If you have been diagnosed with heart, lung or kidney problems, or you have a previous history of heat stroke, then you may need to call your primary care provider prior to engaging in exercise and aggressive hydration.
  • What not to drink is as important as what you drink. Stay away from alcoholic and caffeinated beverages. For activities lasting less than an hour, water is enough to stay hydrated. For more intense activities lasting longer than an hour, sports drinks, which include glucose and electrolytes, may be recommended.
  • Wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing. If possible, try to avoid cotton fabrics. Purchase a sweat-wicking synthetic shirt, which wicks sweat and facilitates evaporation for cooling.
  • Start your summer activities slowly, then gradually increase your activity intensity and time. For example, start to walk, jog or hike for short time periods (5-15 minutes), then add 5-10 minutes each week. This is referred to as “acclimation” and will help you get used to exercising in a warmer environment.

Baby Boomers need to get moving

According to the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, only 16% of individuals aged 65-74 years get the recommended 30 minutes or more of moderate physical activity five or more days a week. As a result, the baby boomer generation is now exhibiting what the Academy called “an epidemic of sedentary lifestyle-related disease.”

“We know that exercise in the older population improves strength, endurance, and balance, as well as decreases the risk of falls and improves mood. You do not need
to enroll in a club or gym to exercise. Walking, jogging, yoga, Pilates, a stretching exercise program and hiking are activities that can be done without the need for any
special equipment or a gym membership,” said Dr. Martinez-Silvestrini.

“We recommend a combination of endurance or aerobic exercise, stretching and strengthening exercises as part of a healthy exercise routine. Weight-bearing exercises,
such as walking or running, may help to maintain bone mass and prevent falls and fractures. While biking and swimming are very good exercise, they are not considered to
be weight-bearing exercises,” he added.

Most doctors recommend getting at least 150 minutes each week of moderate physical activity, such as brisk walking, enough to raise your heart rate and make you breathe faster, or at least 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity each week.

Make an appointment

To make an appointment with Dr. Martinez-Silvestrini, who is also a sports medicine expert, call 413-794-5600.