The Heat Is On

Caution: Be sure to consult your diabetes care team before starting any new exercise program or increasing the intensity of your current routine.

Strategies for Exercising Safely in the Dog Days of Summer

| Jul 1, 2005

This column presents four strategies for exercising in the summer heat. One critical consideration is that regardless of fitness level—novice walker to elite marathoner—everyone must slow down and allow the body to adapt to the heat and humidity before returning to their normal training.

Here’s how to exercise safely when the mercury rises:

1. Respect the Heat and Humidity

Heat and humidity combined are a serious test of the body’s ability to deal with heat stress. Heat with low humidity is less of a problem. Evaporation and cooling can occur when the humidity is low, but high humidity prevents sweat from evaporating, and thus, no cooling. With initial exposure to a hot and humid environment, blood flow is increased to the skin—the reason that skin can take on a red appearance. In addition, perspiration increases in an effort to rid the body of the excess heat built up during exercise from the acceleration in metabolism.

2. Drink Up!

Depending on the intensity of the exercise, fluid intake should be about 12 to 24 ounces two to three hours before exercise and about 5 to 10 ounces for every 15 to 20 minutes of exercise. But be cautious about overloading with water or other fluids that are low in electrolytes during extended periods of exercise. There was a recent report of critical illness and even death in marathon runners who suffered low blood sodium levels from “water intoxication.” Consult your diabetes care team to see if you should be consuming sports drinks with electrolytes (either regular or “lite” versions) during endurance exercise. If your diabetes treatment includes insulin or oral medications that can lower blood glucose levels, your exercise plan will need to include carbohydrates as well.

3. Dress to Stay Cool and Protected From the Sun

Your clothing should be light in color and made of “wicking” synthetic fabrics (such as CoolMax, Drylete, Dri-Fit) designed for athletic activities. Be sure to wear a hat or a visor to protect your face, ears and neck from the sun. Sunglasses with UVA/UVB protection not only shield you from glare, they also protect your eyes from the sun’s damaging rays, which can lead to cataracts. Dress lightly but protect your skin from sun, and cover exposed skin with a dermatologist-approved sweat-proof and rub-proof sun block of SPF 15 or 30.

4. Watch for ‘Bad’ Symptoms

Symptoms of hyperthermia include light-headedness and disorientation that may progress to loss of consciousness. Treatment is to stop exercise at once, get into a cool or shady place, and try to cool the body as quickly as possible. Staying fit can prevent heat-related illnesses. For people with diabetes, certain medications and conditions can prevent their bodies from adjusting properly to the heat. Consulting with your care team can help you decide if exercising in challenging environmental conditions is right for you. Working out in climate-controlled environments such as at a gym or a swimming pool can help you stay with your program during the hottest days of summer.

Be sure to exercise safely this summer, have fun, and we’ll see you “on the go”!

How Does the Body Acclimatize to the Heat?

Acclimatization or adaptation to exercise in the heat takes about seven to 14 days to occur. Changes include increased blood volume, so that when the blood shifts to the skin to dump excess heat from exercising, there is less of a strain on the cardiovascular system. Sweating also occurs earlier, and the sweat is less “salty,” resulting in an increased ability to maintain body fluids.

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