Exercising in hot weather adds stress to the body, increasing risk of serious illnesses. Both exercise itself and the air temperature increase core body temperature, causing a higher than normal heart rate and increased fluid loss. The result may be a heat-related illness which can start off with mild symptoms but can quickly become a life-threatening condition.
Heat illnesses include:
- Heat cramps. Painful muscle contractions, mainly affecting the calves, quadriceps and abdominals, most commonly caused by dehydration and electrolyte imbalance due to excessive sweating. Treat heat cramps with massage, cold compresses and rehydration.
- Heat exhaustion. Caused by high body temperatures up to 104 F. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, headache, fainting, weakness and cold, clammy skin. If left untreated, this can lead to heatstroke. To treat heat exhaustion, stop activity, move to a cool environment, rehydrate and use cold compresses if necessary. Monitor temperature and if it does not decrease or if symptoms worsen, call 911.
- Heatstroke. Heatstroke is a life-threatening emergency condition that occurs when body temperature is greater than 104 F. Symptoms include skin without sweat, confusion and irritability. Call 911 and attempt to cool body temperature to prevent brain damage, organ failure or even death.
When exercising in hot weather, keep these precautions in mind:
- Watch the temperature. Pay attention to weather forecasts and heat alerts.
- Get acclimated. Start slow when working out in the summer – it takes the body about one to two weeks to adapt to heat so gradually increase the length and intensity of workouts in hot weather.
- New exercisers should take extra precautions. Unconditioned or new exercisers should be extra cautious when working out in the heat. Reduce exercise intensity and take frequent breaks.
- Drink plenty of fluids. Dehydration is a key factor in heat illness. Stay well hydrated with water, if exercising intensely or for longer than one hour; consider a sports drink to replace the sodium, chloride and potassium lost through sweating. Avoid alcoholic drinks because they can promote fluid loss.
- Dress appropriately. Lightweight, loose-fitting clothing helps sweat evaporate and keeps you cooler. Avoid dark colors, which can absorb heat. If possible, wear a light-colored, wide-brimmed hat.
- Avoid midday sun. Exercise in the morning or evening, when it's likely to be cooler outdoors.
- Wear sunscreen. Sunburn decreases the body's ability to cool itself.
- Have a backup plan. If you're concerned about the heat or humidity, stay indoors. Work out at the gym, walk laps inside the mall or climb stairs inside an air-conditioned building. Understand medical risks. Certain medical conditions or medications can increase risk of a heat-related illness.
Employee Wellness events
- MUSC's Pitch the Pack Program: Free smoking cessation program offered to MUSC employees and students. Classes, counseling and a one-month supply of medications are available to eligible participants. Receive a success kit with enrollment filled with gifts. Enroll online at http://ceii.muschealth.com/SCP/SCPRegistration.aspx.
- MUSC Urban Farm: Family Workday, 9 – 11 a.m. July 21. Sessions will focus on soil testing: "how, where, and why" in preparation for fall planting. Bring a plastic bag and take home some fresh produce in return for work efforts on the farm. Okra, eggplant, beans, culinary herbs, peppers, and squash should be ready for harvest. Email email@example.com to register. Open to employees, students, and the public.
Contact Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org for information on the Office of Health Promotion, and Suzan Benenson Whelan at email@example.com for specific information about Employee Wellness.