Summer is in full swing and along with longer days, we are seeing higher temperatures. For many, summer brings an opportunity to transition exercise to the outdoors. This is a great way to enjoy all that our region has too offer, but is it always safe to exercise outside during the peak heat of summer? Continue reading so you can be sure to stay safe while remaining active during summer’s heat.

How Does Heat Affect Your Body

The body works hard to maintain its temperature, and summer’s heat can kick things into overdrive. When we exercise, our body naturally opens blood vessels, bringing more blood supply to the skin in an attempt to release heat. Our heart rate then increases to help increase blood supply to the muscles, which require oxygen while you exercise. Sweating occurs as a way to cool the skin via evaporation, but in the peak of summer when things are humid, we may be challenging our bodies to keep up. So, when exercising in the heat, it is important to plan ahead and to know the signs of when you might be putting yourself at risk.

How to Stay Safe While Staying Active Outdoors

When taking your exercise or activity outside in hot weather, there are several precautions you should take to stay safe.

  • Plan ahead. Take a look at the week’s weather and plan ahead what days, and at what times, you will be exercising outside, tackling a project in the yard, or other strenuous activity. Aim for earlier or later periods of the day when the temperature is not as hot and, if possible, choose cooler days of the week. Be sure to also account for humidity, as humidity will prevent your sweat from evaporating to cool you down.
  • Drink fluids. Drink plenty of fluids, preferably water or an electrolyte drink, both before and during your activity. Hydration is critical to reducing the risk of a heat-related event.
  • Don’t push beyond your fitness level. While we all want to push ourselves to improve, the best time to do so is not in the peak heat of summer. If you are exercising during the heat of the day, decrease the intensity of your workouts and take frequent breaks. And, some days may simply be too warm and it is at those times that you should look to take your workout indoors as a precaution.
  • Dress appropriately. Wear clothing that is light and loose so sweat can evaporate to cool the body. Light colors are best, as dark colors will absorb the sun’s heat.

Perhaps the most important tip for staying safe is to listen to your body.

Warning Signs of Heat-Related Illness

The body may send several cautionary signals as a way to warn of an impending heat-related event:

  • Muscle cramping
  • Fatigue or dizziness/lightheaded
  • Headache
  • Abnormal increase in heart rate
  • Blurry vision
  • Weakness
  • Nausea or vomiting

If you begin to experience any of these symptoms while exercising, it is best to stop and attempt to lower your body temperature. Get out of the heat and hydrate your body by drinking fluids. If possible, have someone stay with you in case you need extra assistance.

Don’t miss out on the beauty that surrounds us and the variety of activities that summer has to offer. For many, it is this time of year that make long winters a bit more tolerable. By incorporating our safety tips and being mindful of warning signs, you are ready to enjoy your next hike, run, bike, kayak, or other great summer activity.

Ryan Grey is Assistant Director of Fitness at the Greater Burlington YMCA. He holds a BS in Exercise Science from the University of Vermont and is a certified personal trainer. To learn more about fitness, including personal training, at the YMCA, contact Ryan at rgrey@gbymca.org or call 802-652-8183.

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