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Precautions ensure safe workout in summer heat

While summer has been in full swing for some time now, for many parts of the country, the hottest days are yet to come. Dr. Theodore Shybut, assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at Baylor College of Medicine, offers tips for those who want to continue their outdoor workouts in the rising temperatures.

"It’s ok to work out in some heat, but you should be smart about it," said Shybut. "It doesn’t mean going out in the hottest hour of the day and trying to equal your personal best on a 10k run, for example. There are precautions you can take to minimize your exposure to the heat."

Adjust expectations

Shybut says it’s important to adjust your expectations about the intensity of your workouts.

"The risk of heat exposure is not just being uncomfortable. You can actually get heat exhaustion or heat stroke, which can cause severe consequences, such as damage to internal organs, and can even be fatal," said Shybut.

He offers the following tips for working out safely during the summer:

  • Work out during the early morning or late evening hours to reduce exposure to the heat.
  • Be sure you are adequately hydrated before working out outdoors and take water or a sports drink with you. Urine color is a good indication of hydration level: if urine is a dark color, you are not properly hydrated and need to drink more water.
  • Wear minimal, lightweight clothing in light colors. Consider purchasing moisture wicking performance fabric.
  • Pay attention to the heat index, which measures the combined effect the temperature and humidity have on the body. When the humidity is above about 60 percent, you don’t sweat as effectively.
  • Consider working out indoors or postponing the workout if the heat index is too high.
  • Adjust expectations - don’t try to push yourself through exhaustion.
  • Exercise in a public area where you can get help in case of an emergency.

When to skip exercise regime

The better acclimatized you are, the more tolerant you will be of working out in the heat, Shybut noted. Those who should consider skipping the outdoor workout in the heat include anyone with existing medical conditions, heart or lung problems and those who have recently had an episode of heat illness.

Signs that you are becoming overheated include dizziness, feeling faint and light headed, confusion, excessive fatigue, nausea and discomfort. If you feel that you are no longer sweating and your skin is red, hot and flushed, call 911 because it could indicate a more serious problem.

If you feel any of these symptoms, stop what you’re doing and seek out a shaded or breezy area, or go indoors if possible. Drink water or a sports drink.

The most important thing to do is to be aware of your fitness level and risk factors, Shybut said. Consult with your physician about whether you should exercise outdoors. If you decide to exercise outdoors, gradually increase exposure to the heat.