What to know about exercising in the heat

IIf early-season heatwaves across much of the U.S. are any indication, it’s going to be a hot summer. While that means potentially extra beach days, pool parties, and fun in the sun, it also means taking precautions against the heat, which can be detrimental to your health. This includes properly hydrating, reapplying SPF regularly, investing in ways to keep your home cool on hot summer nights—whether it’s air conditioning or sweat-wicking sheets—and adjusting your fitness routine to handle hot workouts.

At this point, most U.S. adults prefer to do physical activity outdoors, according to a OnePoll survey last year for fitness app Verv. Of the 2,000 participants, 75% of men and 51% of women preferred to exercise outdoors. Part of the reason is a side effect of the pandemic, but it may not be the only reason. Research has also shown that exercising in nature can provide additional health benefits: studies have found that exercising outdoors can increase your physical activity levels while making exercising feel easier. It can also reduce your stress and cortisol levels while boosting your mood and self-esteem.

But unlike indoor workouts, any form of temperature extremes as well as other weather factors like humidity need to be considered when exercising outdoors.

How exercising in the heat affects the body

“When exercising in the heat, our bodies do a great thing called thermoregulation, which is the body’s ability to keep our internal temperature within a safe range,” said board-certified clinical at NYU Langone Center for Sports Performance Exercise physiologist Heather Milton says yes + yes.

Every time you sweat, it’s a sign that your body is regulating its body temperature. Increased blood flow is another sign, Milton said. “The combination of the two results in a higher heart rate to perform the same amount of work compared to a temperate environment,” she explained.

If you’ve ever tried hot yoga or Pilates, you’ve probably experienced it firsthand, and it feels more challenging than doing either exercise in an unheated room. Because of this, your body can be trained to better regulate its own temperature by increasing the intensity of your workout and conditioning your body to perform at a higher heart rate, says Ally McKinney, personal trainer at Gold’s Gym. “The better we get at regulating calories, the more effective our workouts will be,” she says. “Just like any other type of stress, getting used to and overcoming the intensity of these workouts requires adaptation. We can use the same techniques when training for higher temperatures.”

Air conditioning can only take you so far, though, as sometimes the temperature can get so high that your body can’t regulate its own temperature.

How hot is it to exercise in hot weather?

Each body responds differently to heat, depending on how accustomed it is to heat. But according to Milton, we should all pay attention when the thermostat rises above 90 degrees. “Exercising in temperatures above 91.4°F increases the risk of heat exhaustion, which occurs when the body cannot maintain proper blood flow to all organs and The skin is thermoregulating at the same time,” she said. Signs of heat stroke include fainting, fatigue and the inability to exercise, she said.

Signs of heat exhaustion include fainting, fatigue, and the inability to exercise.

At about 92 degrees, your internal temperature will be about 98.6 to 105 degrees, which is about the ultimate range for exercising in the heat without risking heatstroke, Milton said. “[Heatstroke] Even worse, with collapse and central nervous system dysfunction – confusion, dizziness, irrational behavior, etc. This situation needs to be cooled immediately,” Milton warned.

The best way to avoid such symptoms is not to exercise in extreme heat. This might mean choosing to exercise earlier or later in the day, rather than when the temperature is at its highest, or staying in an air-conditioned room. But you also need to make sure to prepare your body before, during, and after your outdoor workouts to ensure it’s maximizing your internal temperature.

How to prepare your body for a workout in the heat

One word: hydration. “Always drink two glasses of water before exercising, then try to drink 4 to 6 ounces of fluid every 20 minutes during exercise and again when you’re done,” says Jennifer Haythe, MD, cardiologist and director of New York-Elder Director of the Department of Cardiology and Obstetrics at Columbia Hospital.

Because one of the main ways your body cools down is through sweating, your skin is losing water. Other things you lose are electrolytes — especially sodium, Hayes said. “Sodium is one of the most basic minerals our bodies need to complete basic cellular processes.”

Drinking water or sports drinks with electrolytes is one way to replenish your reserves. “Just beware that your sports drinks often contain too much sugar,” warns Hayes. “Always check labels and look for beverages with 14 grams of carbohydrate, 28 milligrams of potassium, and 100 milligrams of sodium per 8 ounces.” Replenish energy with foods rich in sodium, magnesium, and potassium (such as cottage cheese, olives), bananas, and beets – also helps.

As a general rule, “for every pound you lose by sweating, replace it with at least half a liter of water,” says Milton. “You may need to consume 20 percent more fluids than usual.”

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