Dog Days of Summer Can Pose Some Risk to Exercisers

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • The past several days, the area where I live has been dusty. You’d think it was just some sand blowing in from the Texas Panhandle, but no, it was actually sand from Africa that had blown across the Atlantic. There was so much sand that a reporter from the Houston Chronicle posted a picture of his drive into work yesterday. Usually, he could see the skyscrapers from that place in the highway, but yesterday the sand obscured all of downtown from view until he got much closer.

    All that sand in the air hasn’t helped anyone. I woke up yesterday with a mean cough that didn’t go away for quite a while. Then I went outside mid-morning to put something in my car and saw one of my neighbors coming in from a workout. He couldn’t quit sneezing. I would guess that his congestion was caused by that all that darn sand in the air, which was serving as an irritant.

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    That got me thinking. Are there times when you shouldn’t exercise outdoors during the summer? It turns out there are some times when you should be really wary.

    Air Pollution

    Dr. Edward Laskowski, a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist at the Mayo Clinic, pointed out that the combination of air pollution and exercise can be unhealthy, especially if you have asthma, diabetes, a heart condition, a lung condition or a lower respiratory disease. He pointed out that people who are doing an aerobic exercise often inhale more air and also breathe more deeply into the lungs. Furthermore, these exercises also often breathe through their mouth while taking part in this activity, thus bypassing the nasal passages that would normally remove many of these pollutant particles.

    Researchers haven’t determined how much exposure to pollutants you need to have while exercising to face increased health problems. They also haven’t figured out the duration of exposure that increases your risk.

    Dr. Laskowski recommends taking four steps to minimize the effects of air pollution when you’re exercising. These are:

    • Monitor the level of air pollution in your area. Check with your local or state air pollution control agency, the hospital, your doctor or the Environmental Protection Agency for information.
    • Schedule your workouts carefully. If there’s an air quality alert, you should either exercise indoors or lower the intensity and duration of your exercise regimen if you’re going to be outdoors. Also, be sure to avoid outdoor activity when pollutants are the highest, which is often during the afternoon and rush hour.

    Heat and Humidity

    Heat exhaustion can be fatal. In fact, approximately 300 Americans die annually of heat-related illnesses. Many of these situations can be avoided. The Texas Heart Institute at St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital recommends taking specific precautions if you’re going to exercise in hot and humid weather. First of all, you need to stay hydrated in order to replace the water that is lost from sweating. Drinking water or a sports drink during exercise also helps prevent fatigue.  However, don’t drink juice or soda because these drinks are not absorbed easily during exercise.

  • “Feeling thirsty is not the best indicator of your body's water needs, because thirst occurs after your body is already dehydrated,” the Institute’s website states. “Also, your thirst is usually satisfied even before your body's water supply is fully replaced. This means that during workouts, you should drink water even if you do not feel thirsty.”

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    If you’re going to work out for less than 1-1/2 hours, the Institute recommends the following:

    • Consume 16 ounces of cool or cold water between 1-2 hours before you exercise.
    • Consume 16 ounces of cool water or sports drink 15 minutes before exercising.
    • Consume about 5 ounces of cool water every 10 minutes while you exercise.
    • Have 34 ounces of cool water per hour available to drink as you exercise.
    • Consume about 16 ounces of cool or cold water or a sports drink after you finish exercising.

    The Institute also recommends that you lower the intensity of your workout on very hot days.

    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

    Laskowski, E. R. (2011). Does air pollution make outdoor exercise risky? What if you have asthma or another health problem? Mayo Clinic.

    Texas Heart Institute at St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital. (2012). Avoid heat exhaustion in hot and humid conditions.

Published On: August 09, 2013