Exercise is one of the keys to staying healthy and feeling healthy. It’s not just about maintaining good cardiovascular health and muscular strength though – the process of stretching, exercising and yes – cooling down properly – can be helpful in reducing pain and discomfort. While many GP’s still recommended bedrest for many painful spinal conditions, its rare that chiropractors make the same call. For the most part, we want to see out clients out in the world and participating in physical activity of some sort, but is that still a good idea when it gets especially hot out?
Exercise and physical activity
The first important point to make here is that this blog is not just directed at those who like to participate in regular physical activity for fitness, the suggestions here are also worth taking on board for anyone who will be participating in outdoor activities on especially hot days… But wait, isn’t it best just to say inside once it really heats up, whoever you are?
The short answer to this is no – in fact, its perfectly safe to exercise and remain active in the heat, as long as you make just a few small adjustments to the way you work. It’s also important to keep in mind that for some people, such as builders, gardeners or road workers staying out of the sun and avoiding physical activity just isn’t an option either, so read on to learn how you can best protect yourself.
The dangers of excessive heat
There are three main concerns to keep in mind when you’re active during the hot weather – these are (in order of severity) dehydration, heat stress and the potentially-deadly heat stroke. Exercising or hard physical work can make these conditions more likely, and certainly worsens them where they already exist. In fact, physical activity has a cumulative effect which can take an individual from a comfortable state to distress in a relatively short amount of time. When you exercise in the heat, your body temperature rises – in turn, this causes you to sweat, sacrificing body water in an attempt to cool down. When the weather is especially hot (and worse when it is humid too) sweat is not able to evaporate and cool the body effectively – your temperature rises, and water reserves are depleted rapidly. Symptoms include light-headedness, confusion, headaches, irritability, muscle cramps or unusual fatigue. Serious signs of heat stress can include chills, goosebumps and vomiting.
Hot weather – how to exercise safely
Safety first is always the key, so having made the point that stopping activity entirely isn’t always possible, you certainly should play it safe and get out of the sun for a while if you find yourself feeling overheated or exhausted. If you’re purely out for the exercise, you may also want to call a halt if you find yourself becoming distracted or struggling to focus- This might be a symptom of dehydration or overheating, but in the more immediate term being distracted raises your chance of suffering an injury, especially if you’re a runner or prefer to work out with weights.
Thankfully, however, there are some common-sense steps which you can take to adjust your workout routine, or indeed, your work routine, to minimise the risk of these issues and allow you to keep on going.
Avoid the hottest part of the day
Wherever possible try not to undertake physical activity during the hottest part of the day. Temperatures are generally highest between 12 and 4 PM, when many of us are at work anyway, so a run in the early morning or late evening is safer and probably more pleasant than a run at high noon. If you’re working outside during this time, take your lunch break here or perhaps consider starting and finishing early. The hottest days also occur during the summer (of course!) so you might also consider exercising earlier or later when usual, you’ll have the light for longer and it might be more sensible to compromise on your normal routine than to miss a session altogether.
Take regular breaks
Whether exercising or working, taking regular breaks is also a simple way to avoid heat-related illness. You should schedule a two- to five-minute break — in the shade — for every 15 minutes of activity. If you’re active for longer, you should take a longer break: 15 minutes after 45 minutes of activity. If possible, remove any clothing or equipment which raises your temperature while taking a break. While taking a break in the heat, its best to focus just on doing this – so don’t jump in a pool keep exercising and call that a break – depending on how hard you’re swimming, your core temperature may actually continue to rise.
Dehydration is by far the most common issue on hot days (whether you’re being physically active or not) and since sweating is responsible for much heat-induced water loss, you should dress appropriately for the heat, meaning loose, light-coloured clothing with appropriate sun protection – this will help you to sweat more effectively, and therefore lose less water.
In the heat (but always, as a good rule) you should never wait until you a thirsty to drink – instead, schedule regular water breaks – doing this while you are taking some time in the shade works well. If you are usually quite bad at remembering to drink enough water, consider setting an alarm on your phone. Every 15 to 30 minutes works well. Generally, thirst should be considered as a sign that you are already dehydrated so if you do find yourself getting thirsty stop what you are doing and rehydrate. Rehydration drinks can be useful if you know how to use them appropriately – but never use them as a substitute for water.
Change the rules
Unless you’re competing in a professional level sporting event, you may be able to slightly change the rules of your game to accommodate the hot weather and better rest periods. So long as both sides agree, think about changing the length or number of terms in your match, or consider allowing unlimited substitutions.