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Sweat safely: Avoid dangers during summer workouts

Sweat safely: Avoid dangers during summer workouts

The sun and warm breezes are calling you outdoors, tempting you to get off the couch and into your running shoes or onto your bike. 

Your body and mind will love you for getting in motion, but overdoing it in the summer heat can send you right back inside. To ensure that you maximize the enjoyment of the surf and turf and avoid misery, indulge in a tall glass of water or two before venturing out the door. 

“Drink more than you think you need to ahead of time,” said Dr. Matthew Levine, who is associated with The Centers for Advanced Orthopaedics, which serves patients in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

If you continue to sweat while you work out and your urine is clear, you are well hydrated, he said, adding that those who are active outside should not wait until they’re thirsty to drink something. 

“If you’re not sweating, you’ve gone too far,” said Levine, who is part of the Mid-Maryland Musculoskeletal Institute in Frederick, Md., and assists athletic trainers at Tuscarora High School in Frederick. 

Water is an inexpensive, effective drink for a body in motion, Levine said. Some drinks touted for hydration and electrolyte replenishment, including juices, have a lot of sugar, he warned, though they can be watered down before consuming. 

Fresh fruits and vegetables are great sources of fluids and substance, too. 

“It makes it easier to stay hydrated and eat healthier,” Levine, said of the plentiful produce in summer.

Levels of fitness

Warm weather sometimes inspires active souls to try new things, which is good for the mind and body, but Levine cautioned against trying something far beyond one’s level of physical experience. For instance, if a person has never been on a ski in water, he or she shouldn’t try slalom water-skiing right away.

Beginners who are in reasonably good health with no medical issues can start with low-impact activities such as biking, swimming, walking or light jogging, said Levine, who coached and ran track. 

Individuals with injuries or medical conditions should get a doctor’s approval before starting a fitness regimen, Levine added.

Exerting oneself in the heat can exacerbate cardiac or respiratory conditions, said Dr. George D. Harris, a professor and chairman of the West Virginia University Eastern Division Department of Family Medicine. Extra caution should be taken by those who have had heart surgery, and those who have asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, he said, adding that medications used to manage those issues can affect how people respond to heat.

Other higher-risk groups are those 8 and younger and 55 and older, whose bodies might not cope well with high temperatures, and pregnant women, for whom Harris said, “hydration is huge.” 

When the body’s systems are out of balance, it lets you know.

“Your body talks to you and says, ‘Hey, I’m getting more stressed,’” said Harris.

Muscle cramps are among the indications that a person is overdoing it in the heat. He said drinking lots of fluids and massaging the affected muscles can help, as can stretching before and after exercising.

Another repercussion of doing too much in higher temperatures and humidity is exercise-associated collapse called heat syncope. It occurs when the body, while trying to cool itself, causes blood vessels to dilate so much that blood flow to the brain is reduced. Harris said that can be prevented by walking around after one stops exercising — rather than stopping abruptly — and drinking lots of fluids.

Heat exhaustion can occur when body temperature rises to a point where a person feels lightheaded, nauseated, possibly to the point of vomiting, and perspires intensely. The body also can become cool and clammy, Harris said.

If such symptoms occur, he said to get out of heat or at least find a shady spot, elevate your legs and remove as much clothing as possible. Putting towels soaked in ice water on the skin might help, too. If those measures don’t work, call for medical help, he said. 

A more severe reaction to the rising mercury is heat stroke.

“That’s a life-threatening emergency,” when the body’s temperature might exceed 104 degrees, Harris said. 

A person experiencing it is not sweating, they are flushed, and they might be confused, have slurred speech and become agitated.

“It’s affecting their mentation,” Harris said of the heat. “You don’t mess with these folks. You call 911.” 

Until help arrives, he advised they be treated like those with heat exhaustion.

Stay active safely

To avoid those worst-case scenarios, exercise in the early morning or evening when it’s hot, and stay in the shade as much as possible, both doctors advised. 

The beach is a great place to get exercise, providing opportunities to go paddle boarding, kayaking, wind surfing and sailing. Runners might enjoy taking strides on sand rather than paved surfaces, but they need to be careful. 

Levine suggested running on compact rather than loose sand to lessen the strain on muscles, and turn down the pace. 

Speaking of slowing down, playing in the waves and digging in the sand burn more calories than some might think, Levine said.

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