How to exercise safely during a heat wave

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This article Republished from Conversation under a Creative Commons License.

When summer begins with a stifling heat wave, as many places will see in 2024, it could pose risks to anyone who spends time outdoors, whether they are runners, people walking or cycling to work, people doing outdoor activities, or children playing sports.

Heat-related illness expert Susan Yergin explains what everyone should think about before spending time outside in a heat wave and how to keep themselves and their family members and friends safe.

What are the risks of exercising outside?

If you’re going for a run or walking or cycling to work during a heat wave, the time of day matters. Early risers or those who run in the evening are less at risk – the sun isn’t as hot and the air temperature is lower.

But if your usual routine is to go for a run in the morning or at lunchtime, you should probably reconsider exercising in the heat.

Almost everywhere in the US, the hottest time of the day is between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. The body will get heat from both air temperature and solar radiation. The ground is also hot, so you will feel hotter than asphalt or grass.

This will also add moisture, which will also affect your body’s ability to expel heat through sweat.

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Symptoms of heat illness and what to do.

Photo: ellenabs via Getty Images

Don’t forget that the body also produces internal heat when you’re active, whether you’re running or mowing your lawn. When it’s hot outside, you’re adding to your heat through that exertion. The more someone runs or cycles, the more heat they produce.

Outdoor workers working on farms, construction sites, or even walking dogs are often in the heat for longer periods of time, and have fewer options for taking breaks.

Do our bodies eventually adapt to the summer heat?

It takes about two weeks for a normal person to fully acclimatize to high temperatures. During that time, your body makes amazing adaptations to withstand the heat.

Your sweat rate improves, which dissipates heat more effectively. Your plasma volume increases, so more blood is pumped through your body, so the heart doesn’t have to work as hard. Because your cardiovascular system is more efficient, your body doesn’t overheat. You also retain salt a little better, which helps you retain water in your body.

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