An ED doctor’s tips for avoiding heat exhaustion and heatstroke.
After a long, grueling winter on the treadmill, you’ve finally nailed that 7-minute mile. Now seems like the perfect time to take it outside, right?
Not so fast.
Exercising outdoors in the heat of summer is a lot different than churning out miles in an air-conditioned gym, says Dr. Farrukh Jafri, medical director at WPH Cares at White Plains Hospital. If you push too hard in high temperatures, your body can become dehydrated or overheat to the point of heat exhaustion or heatstroke.
“Heat exhaustion results from dehydration and salt loss, whereas heatstroke is when your body is unable to compensate for your rising core temperature,” says Dr. Jafri. Basically, your body temperature is rising so much — for a heatstroke, more than 104 degrees — that your body can no longer cool itself off.
Symptoms for heat exhaustion usually start with cramps, and include nausea, flushing, lightheadedness or feeling faint. “During a heat stroke, your body can lose the ability to sweat, resulting in an altered mental state and multi-organ injury,” says Dr. Jafri. Heatstroke can be severe and life threatening, but if you exercise smart, it can be avoided. Here’s how:
Hydrate: Make sure you’re well hydrated before you start exercising, says Dr. Jafri. “Have at least two glasses of water beforehand,” he advises.
Check the weather: Know the weather forecast. “If there’s a heat advisory, or humidity over 80 percent, it’s probably best to exercise inside,” says Dr. Jafri, who has volunteered at the intensive care units at two New York City marathons.
Keep a flexible schedule: Try exercising at different times of the day, says Dr. Jafri. “Try for early in the morning or early in the evening, when the sun isn’t as strong and there could be a cooler breeze. And always look for shade,” he suggests.
Dress appropriately: “Avoid bulky clothing. Try moisture-wicking fabrics—they facilitate cooling,” says Dr. Jafri. “Shed layers when you can.”
Be smart: If you feel dizzy, light-headed, nauseous, faint, or have cramps, stop exercising. “If your body is giving you warning signs, rest and take it easy. Find a shaded area where you can sit down,” says Dr. Jafri. “Wait twenty minutes, if feeling better, go home with the assistance of a friend and rest.”
Drink enough… but not too much: Drinking during your workout will help you stay cool.
However, hyponatremia is a rare condition caused by drinking too much water, too quickly. The result is abnormally low sodium levels in your body. “Hyponatremia can result in altered mental status and seizures,” says Dr. Jafri. Think you’re drinking too much water? Dr. Jafri suggests weighing yourself before and after a run. “If you weigh more after your run, consider cutting down on your water intake.”
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