Exercising in the summer offers a wide range of outdoor activities such as swimming, cycling, hiking, and running. But working out in the extreme heat can be dangerous if you’re not prepared. Follow these tips to beat the heat when you’re exercising outside.
Make sure you’re hydrated before you exercise
Along with the summer heat comes an increased need for fluids. Your body loses water each time you exhale, sweat, and use the bathroom. Without enough water, your body will become dehydrated. You need to replace this lost fluid each day with an adequate amount of water to maintain these bodily functions.
So how much water do you need? The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies recommends a total water intake of 16 cups each day for men and 11 cups a day for women. While some of this necessary fluid comes from the foods you eat, most of this needs to come from drinking water. The general guideline I recommend for my patients is to drink half of your body weight in fluid ounces. So if you weigh 160 pounds, you need a minimum of 80 ounces (or ten, eight-ounce glasses) of water each day. The average person does not meet their daily fluid needs.
A good rule of thumb to see if you are getting enough water is to look at the color of your urine. If it is clear or straw-colored, you are likely getting enough water. If your urine is dark, it is a sign that you are dehydrated. Don’t wait until you are thirsty to drink water, as this is typically a sign that you are already dehydrated.
Other signs of dehydration include nausea and light-headedness. To ensure that you are getting enough water throughout the day, carry a water bottle around with you wherever you go (in the car, at your desk at work, etc.). Sipping on water throughout the day is the easiest way to get enough fluid. Don’t wait to consume all of your water at once: you will likely feel too full to get in all of your required water for the day.
What about hydration drinks?
Water is sufficient for most people to replace fluid lost during exercise. But for people who are exercising 60 minutes or more, especially in the hot weather, a hydration drink (which contains sodium and potassium- electrolytes that are lost through sweat) may be appropriate. Some athletes use juice and even milk to replace the energy that is lost during a workout and to replete the energy stores in their muscles.
Proper hydration is critical for athletic performance, particularly when you are exercising in the heat or for long periods of time. When your body is dehydrated, you may experience muscle cramps and fatigue. Without adequate water, your body can’t sweat to cool itself down. This can ultimately lead to heat stroke. When you are exercising outside in the summer, you will need even more water to stay hydrated. For each pound of fluid lost after exercise, you need 2-3 cups of water to replace that lost fluid.
Do some research before you head outdoors
If you can exercise early in the morning (before 10:00 AM) or later in the day (after 4:00 PM), you will avoid the hottest part of the day when the sun is strongest. Choose shaded streets or trails instead of those with no relief from the sun’s rays. If you must work out in the middle of the day, try a less-intense workout such as walking or one where you can stay cool (such as swimming or water aerobics). Check the weather forecast: if there’s a heat advisory, it would be a good day to take your workout indoors.
Work out indoors
If the heat is too much, there are plenty of indoor workouts that you can do as an alternative to outdoor exercise. If you don’t belong to a gym, get a day pass for an indoor or hotel pool or gym. Try a new type of exercise, such as ice skating or roller skating. Or pop in a DVD at home for a cardio, strength-training, or yoga workout.
The bottom line
While exercising outdoors in the summertime is a nice break from the gym routine, it can be dangerous if you aren’t prepared for the heat. Listen to your body. Stop any exercise immediately if you feel light-headed, dizzy, nauseous, or weak.
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Carmen Roberts, M.S., R.D., L.D.N., is a registered dietitian, receiving her undergraduate degree in dietetics from James Madison University and her master’s degree in health education and administration from Towson University. She is a certified specialist in adult weight management and teaches cooking classes. Carmen enjoys educating her clients about how nutrition affects the body and its role in overall health and wellness. She also loves volunteering, including as a Girl Scout troop leader.