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August 2019

Hot, Hot, Hot! Exercise Safely in Summer

Hot, humid conditions test the limits of even the most dedicated athletes. So it’s no surprise that summer weather is a challenge for those of us with more modest exercise goals. Here’s how to stay on track while avoiding heat-related problems.

Older man drinking from a water bottle

Make a (flexible) plan

Look at the local forecast. Use safety alerts and the heat index to guide what you will do and when. The heat index tracks humidity. It tells you what the air temperature will feel like to your body in the shade. In the sun, it can feel up to 15 degrees hotter.

When the heat index reaches 80 degrees, use extra caution deciding what to do, where, and for how long. Keep in mind that mornings and evenings are the coolest parts of the day. Noon to 3 p.m. is the hottest.

You should also consider any factors that increase your risk for heat-related problems. Your body will have a harder time cooling off if you:

  • Are 65 or older

  • Have a sunburn

  • Are dehydrated

  • Are overweight

  • Take a prescription medicine

  • Have poor circulation or high blood pressure

  • Have heart, lung, or kidney disease 

Choose activities wisely

Target cooler times for a run, power walk, or basketball game. For warmer days, make less taxing plans such as strolling a farmers market or riding your bike on a shaded path. Whatever you decide, allow your body time to get used to the weather. Start slowly, then build up your pace. If your heart is pounding, you can’t catch your breath, or you feel lightheaded, stop right away. Move to a cooler area and rest. 

Stay in the air conditioning when it’s just too hot and sticky outside. Try a class at a local fitness or recreation center. You could also hop on a treadmill or stationary bike. For a change of scenery, head to a shopping mall to get your steps in.

Stay hydrated

Drink water throughout your day and during exercise. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty. If you have a health condition or take medicine, talk with your healthcare provider about how to stay hydrated. You may need to watch how much water you drink or pass up sports drinks.

Wear the right gear

How you dress can help you enjoy a workout and keep cool. Put these items on before heading out:  

  • A water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher. Apply 30 minutes before going outside and continue to reapply according to package directions.

  • Lightweight, light-colored clothing made of moisture-wicking fabric.

  • UV-blocking sunglasses and a hat or visor.

If you’re biking, always wear a helmet. It can trap heat though, so you may need to lower your intensity and ride for a shorter time. Or pick a different activity.

If you have any questions about specific summer activities or need advice for certain health conditions, talk with your provider. He or she will make sure you’re staying safe while staying fit. 

Online Medical Reviewer: McDonough, Brian, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 5/1/2019
© 2000-2019 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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