Exercising in the heat

We’ve all experienced that pre-workout feeling, filled with enthusiasm, ready to give it a go. It might not be quite as pleasant as that, but one feeling you’ll be familiar with as soon as you begin to exercise in the heat is your muscles warming up, and a layer of dewy sweat forming on your brow almost immediately. Luckily, Vitality Clinician and Physiologist Jamie Monk is on hand with some expert tips to make sure you are safe when you exercise in the heat.

Metabolism is the process by which your body converts fuel into energy. During exercise, your metabolism can increase by 5 to 15 times its resting rate and depending on the form of exercise, 70-100% of the by-products produced during metabolism are released in the form of heat. This excess heat must be dissipated in order to maintain body homeostasis. The area of your brain which is responsible for regulating your body’s temperature is called the hypothalamus.

The hypothalamus is like an internal thermostat which is constantly receiving feedback from receptors located in the skin and body. The information is processed in the hypothalamus where a resultant signal for heat loss is initiated where necessary by either increasing sweat rate or altering the flow of blood closer to the skin, so that the heat can be radiated out into the environment. The wider the gradient between the body temperature and air temperature, the easier it is for heat to be dissipated. However, as temperatures increase, it is important to follow some common sense precautions in order to prevent heat-related illnesses and exercise safely.

Dress for success to exercise in the heat

In hot environments, clothing acts as a barrier to thermal balance by inhibiting evaporative and convective cooling. It is therefore essential to dress appropriately when you exercise in the heat. Clothing construction, fit and fabric are all important factors to consider. Dark colours absorb heat whilst lighter colour will reflect the sun and keep you cooler for longer. Some fabrics are designed to pull sweat away from your skin, whereas others absorb it. Try and purchase breathable synthetic fabrics rather than cotton as they will allow sweat to evaporate quickly and more air will be able to circulate over your skin.

Avoid midday sun

It is crucial to really consider the time of day for your exercise. The sun is generally at its peak powers between 11am and 3pm. There also tends to be residual heat lingering towards the evening as well, along with higher humidity levels which will impede your body’s ability to cool effectively through sweat evaporation. So for optimal performance, try and incorporate exercise into your morning routine and give yourself the best chance of making your workout as pleasant as possible rather than a sweaty slog.

Remember your cooling points

For a more targeted approach to cooling your body, keep your pulse points in mind. To begin with, think wrists, feet and neck. Applying a cool towel over these areas will lower the temperature in the blood closest to the skin surface, which will then recirculate into the body’s larger bloodstream and result in an instant cooling effect to help you exercise in the heat.

Be aware of the warning signs

  • Heat cramps – Cramps are likely the first warning signal that you are exerting yourself too much. If you feel spasms in your muscles during your workout, gently stretch and massage the affected area, replenish your fluids and don’t attempt to begin exercise at least for a few hours after the cramps have subsided.
  • Heat exhaustion – Symptoms include extreme fatigue, breathlessness, dizziness, vomiting or feinting. Your pulse may also be weak, but rapid. It is essential to stop exercise immediately if you are suffering with any of the above and shelter in a cool environment whilst drinking plenty of cool fluid.
  • Heatstroke – This life-threatening condition requires immediate medical attention. Symptoms will be obvious and include an elevated temperature (≥40ᶛC), feeling disorientated, a rapid pulse, and flushed skin from exertion.

When you exercise in the heat will, it will force additional strain on your body. The key to keeping safe is to know your limits, listen to your body, and apply the appropriate precautions.

For the perfect way to keep cool while exercising in the heat, why not try out some wild swimming? If you’re interested, make sure to read about health benefits of wild swimming.

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