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Sports / Orthopedic

The Effects of Heat on Runners

Jul 20 2022

The summer months can be the perfect time to start training for fall races. But when the summer heat hits, how does it affect your running routine? Should outdoor exercise, such as running, take a pause during times of high temperatures?

Jason Hageman, MD, a primary care doctor at Mercy Health – Delphos Family Medicine, answers the questions below to keep you safe while working out.

What happens to your body temperature when you run?

“Running raises your body temperature, causing you to sweat during your workout. The harder you run, the more your body sweats to bring your temperature down. The sweat is then evaporated from your body to make you cooler. When heat and humidity are added to the mix, your body has a harder time evaporating the sweat from your body. The good news is that our bodies adapt to heat and humidity after roughly two weeks.”

Is there a temperature or heat index that is unsafe when it comes to outdoor exercise?

“An unsafe temperature and heat index varies from person to person. Personal factors including age, medical conditions, medications, heat acclimation and health all play a role in heat-related illnesses. Other factors, like the amount of clothing needed for an activity such as football pads, or length of exercise as well as the intensity of an activity, play a role in exercising safely.”

What are some ways people can stay healthy when exercising outside during the summer months?

Drinking water is a start, but not the full picture. I recommend exercising in the cooler parts of the day, such as the mornings or evenings, and with as much shade as possible. Wear cool, moisture-wicking clothes when exercising and limit caffeine as well as alcohol use to stay hydrated. Taking breaks or adjusting your intensity level while exercising can also keep you safe from heat-related illnesses. If the heat is too much, always remember that your health is more important than your workout.”

Sports drinks say they provide electrolytes during and after exercise. But is drinking a sports drink better than drinking water during a hot workout?

“Whether a sports drink is needed during activity depends on the duration and intensity of the activity. Consider using sports drinks when the duration of activity exceeds 45 minutes of being physically active to replenish electrolytes. It’s also important to remember to hydrate before and after exercising to prevent issues during exercising.”

What are signs that a person may not be doing well or experiencing a heat-related illness?

“Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are the two major heat-related illnesses people experience in the summer months. Heat stroke is more severe and can even be deadly. It is characterized by elevated body temperatures that cause severe symptoms such as confusion, slurred speech, seizures, severe headaches, nausea or vomiting.

Heat stroke is a medical emergency and requires rapid cooling of the person affected. And while heat exhaustion may have similar symptoms, such as headaches and nausea, the person will not be confused or disoriented.”

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