How to Exercise in the Heat

The Dog Days of Summer are here.

Another way to put it? It’s really hot out.

When temps are upwards of 90 degrees, it’s possible to get overheated just walking a few blocks.

And if you actually want to exercise in those temps? Not only is it uncomfortable — it can be incredibly dangerous. 

Exercising in hot weather puts a lot of extra stress on your body. Both the exercise itself and the high temps increase your core body temperature. To help cool itself, your body sends more blood to circulate through your skin. This leaves less blood for your muscles, which in turn increases your heart rate. 

If the humidity is also high, your body faces even more stress because sweat doesn’t readily evaporate from your skin, which pushes your body temperature even higher.

The bottom line is that if exposed to high temperatures and humidity for too long, your natural cooling systems can fail. And this can happen a lot quicker if you’re exercising in these temps. The outcome can be a heat-related illness like heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and even heatstroke.

But we know you still want to exercise, so we’ve got your back. Here are some of our favorite ways to avoid heat-related illness while still getting your fitness on.

Stay hydrated. And yes, that means WATER

This tip can’t be overemphasized. Again, exercising in extreme heat and humidity can cause your natural cooling systems to fail. Water can help keep those systems running.

Drinking plenty of water helps your body sweat and cool itself down. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink water.

To maintain good hydration for a summer workout, we recommend drinking 20 ounces of water two hours before exercise, at least 8 ounces of water shortly before getting out in the heat, and then a gulp every 15 to 20 minutes during exercise. Ideally, you want your urine to be the color of lemonade.

Another great way to help rehydrate is to eat a piece of fruit, or even carrots or celery sticks. The fruit and veggies will also help replace valuable electrolyte loss.

Get acclimated

If you’re used to exercising indoors or in cooler weather, take it easy at first when you exercise in the heat. Be patient with yourself — it can take at least one to two weeks to adapt to the heat. 

Start small. If you normally run three miles on a treadmill or in cooler temps, try just doing one mile and monitor how you feel. 

As your body adapts to the heat over time, gradually increase the length and intensity of your workouts.

Even after you acclimate, be realistic and know when to slow down

When the temperature hits the 90s, don’t expect to go out and set a personal record. 

Listen to your body and if you begin to feel dizzy, nauseous, or tired, give yourself a break in a cooler location. Allow your body time to rest and refuel between workouts to prevent jeopardizing your fitness and workout goals.

Wear light, breathable clothing

Lightweight fabrics that wick away sweat are best for exercising in the heat. Clothes should also be light in color in order to reflect the sun.

Sunscreen is also important when you exercise outdoors. A well-ventilated hat with a brim and some lightweight sunglasses can protect your face and help prevent headaches.

If your summer workout involves wearing a protective helmet, remove it during rest periods to allow your head to breathe and cool off.

Exercise early or late

10 a.m. to 3 p.m. is known for being the hottest time of the day. If possible, get out before 7 a.m. or after 6 p.m. to exercise in the summer months. This will add length to your day, and energy to your summer workout. Inevitably, heat and humidity will slow you down.

Many athletes prefer to work out earlier in the morning as it can help them to stay energized throughout the day and to sleep better at night.

Don’t fear the water

Summer is the perfect time to make water your friend. On especially hot days, try adding a water activity to your workout like swimming or surfing. These activities will help you to stay fit and healthy in the summer in a fun and new way while also staying cool. 

Prefer to run instead? No worries, you can still get in on the water action. Next time you see what looks like a “rainy day”, opt to run with the rain rather than against it. Running during a rainy day can help you to stay cool and many athletes find these workouts to be invigorating and refreshing.

The key for successfully running in the rain is to be prepared. Wear bright clothing and make sure all of your clothing is water-proof (this includes shoes and accessories such as a cell-phone case). Avoid running around cars that may have trouble seeing you. 

Running in a little bit of rain won’t harm you, but if you see lightning or hear thunder, you’ll want to return inside to safety as quickly as possible.

Take it indoors

There’s nothing wrong with working out indoors at your local gym or even in your home if you have equipment. On days when there is an excessive heat warning, this can be your best decision to stay cool and avoid a heat-related injury while still getting in your workout.

Recognize signs of overheating

If you feel nausea, headache, dizziness or cramping during a hot workout, slow down or stop and hunt for shade. 

Here’s a full list of signs you should stop exercising: 

  • Muscle cramps
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Excessive sweating
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Confusion
  • Irritability
  • Low blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Visual problems

If you develop any of these symptoms, it’s crucial to lower your body temperature and get hydrated right away. Stop exercising immediately and get out of the heat. If possible, have someone stay with you who can help monitor your condition.

Know when to see your doctor

If you have signs of heatstroke that last longer than 30 minutes, do not hesitate to see your doctor. In some cases, you may need fluids through an IV. You’ll also want to get cleared by your doctor before you return to exercise.

Summer exercise requires more caution, but it’s doable! Just follow these tips and be smart. If you’re unsure about whether or not it’s safe to exercise in your current health, schedule a visit with your StarMed primary care provider for check-up.