Exercising in the heat

Exercising in the heat

By Paul Huang, MD
Interventional Cardiologist & Medical Director, Swedish Heart & Vascular

Even though regular exercise is important for cardiovascular health, exercising in hot weather can lead to heat exhaustion or even heat stroke. These conditions result from the production of excess body heat, overwhelming the body’s capacity for heat release and raising the core body temperature.

What you should know:

The signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion include:

  • heavy sweating
  • fatigue
  • headache
  • pale and clammy skin
  • thirst
  • increased heart rate
  • dizziness or fainting
  • nausea and vomiting
  • muscle and abdominal cramps
  • elevated temperature.

What is heat stroke?

Heat stroke occurs when the core body temperature exceeds 104 degrees F, accompanied by seizure or coma. The primary cause of heat exhaustion and stroke is dehydration with inadequate fluid and electrolyte repletion. Those with the following risk factors are particularly prone to heat exhaustion and stroke: extreme young or old, pregnancy, chronic illness (in particular cardiac or respiratory diseases), alcohol consumption, extreme physical exertion, and certain medications.

So how do I exercise in the heat?

It is prudent to exercise during the cooler times of the day. Wearing loose and light-weight clothing helps. One should drink before, during, as well as after exercise. (Usually 2 cups of water 30 minutes before exercise and 1 cup every 20 minutes during exercise will help ensure adequate hydration.) Electrolyte supplementation, such as calcium, magnesium and potassium, may be considered, especially for endurance athletes.

We should recognize the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion, not just in ourselves but also in those around us. Moving the affected individual to a cooler environment such as a shady spot or an air-conditioned room, spraying with water and fanning, and providing fluids (water or sports drinks), are the usual first steps. If symptoms persist, urgent medical evaluation may become necessary.

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