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Feel the Burn

Posted 6/18/2018 by UHBlog

As the temperature outside rises, so does your risk of developing a heat-related illness. Ask us how to keep your cool when exercising this summer.

Young couple exercising in the park

On an average summer day in Ohio, you may be feeling the burn before your workout even gets started. However, it’s not just the temperature that puts you at risk while exercising.

According to sports medicine specialist Robert Flannery, MD, it’s the combination of heat and humidity that athletes should really be aware of.

“It’s just as important to pay attention to the humidity as it is to pay attention to the temperature,” Dr. Flannery says. “The higher the humidity, the more difficult it is for the body to lose heat through sweating.”

Even on the hottest day of the summer, you won’t go from just feeling warm to seriously ill all at once. According to Dr. Flannery, you should look out for warning signs such as:

  • Cramping
  • Excessive sweating
  • Disorientation
  • Agitation
  • Inability to answer simple questions

If your body continues to heat up, you may stop sweating altogether.

“Once you get above 102 degrees you get into trouble. If you’re no longer sweating, that’s a medical emergency,” he says.

To make sure you’re feeling the burn of your workout without putting yourself at risk, Dr. Flannery recommends the following preventive strategies:

  1. Schedule water breaks. “Make sure you’re taking in the correct amount of fluids for the exercise you’re doing," he says. "If you’re out in the heat for more than two hours, you need to start replacing the electrolytes and salts you lose in sweat.”
  2. Avoid the heat of the day. Try not to schedule practices or workouts in the middle of the day when the sun is hottest.
  3. Track your weight. Your weight before and after your workout tells you how much fluid you’ve lost.
    “Aim to stay within a few pounds of your starting weight. If you’re losing a lot of weight, you’re not replacing lost fluids,” says Dr. Flannery. “You can also check your weight the following morning to make sure you haven’t lost more than one or two percent of your body weight.”
  4. Change your diet. “You can’t eat or drink your way to a championship, but you can eat or drink your way out of one,” says Dr. Flannery. “Make sure you’re avoiding caffeine, which dehydrates you, and fueling yourself properly.”
  5. Start early. It takes time to hydrate your body.
    “It’s not only important to hydrate when you’re going to be in the heat, but to start days in advance,” he says.
  6. Take cover. Taking a break in the shade can prevent you from overheating.
    “If someone is already overheating, it’s important to get them out of the sun to cool down,” Dr. Flannery says. “You can also use ice packs or submerge yourself in a tub of cool water to lower your body temperature.”

In addition to taking precautions before working out in the heat, remember that not all workouts or athletes are the same.

“The range of sweat loss can vary from person to person, but drinking eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day is a good place to start,” he says.

Robert Flannery, MD is a sports medicine specialist at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center and a medical team physician for the Cleveland Browns. You can request an appointment with Dr. Flannery or any other doctor online.

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