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Health & Fitness: Keeping Cool in the Summer Heat

KIM DUKE

By Kim Duke, NETA & AFAA Certified Trainer

What a difference a few weeks can make in Western New York!  Literally just two articles ago, I was trying to convince readers to get outside despite the rain and cool temps.  Now, we are in the throes of a heat wave.

Summer means time to take your routine outside.  But, what about these extreme temps?

Here are some tips to staying cool in the hot summer weather.

Running on a 90-degree day may seem like self-inflicted torture, but according to Christopher Minson, Ph. D., and the director of the Human Cardiovascular Control Lab at the University of Oregon, “Athletes use exercising in the heat as a secret weapon, because it can improve their cardiovascular function, helping them to perform better year-round.”   Minson studies the effect on cyclists and found that those who trained for 10 days in heat close to 100-degree temps rode faster with less perceived effort that those in a control group.  However, it was important to practice safe-sweat tips to actually enjoy the ride or run in the sun.

First, you need to build a tolerance.

Immediately after you exercise in high temperatures, your body produces special protective proteins that go to work reducing inflammation and repairing cellular breakdown from dehydration and small muscle tears, making you stronger and more tolerant of heat and stress after every workout. The key is to acclimate yourself over time. Minson says that you should spend a few days progressively increasing your heat exposure.  Within a couple of weeks, your performance, blood volume and lactate threshold (measure of how fit you are) will improve.  Eventually, Minson says, the heat will not feel as hot.

However, not everyone who is trying to exercise during the heat of the summer is looking for these benefits. Many are just looking to get in some outdoor time and get fit along the way.  For those athletes, here are some tips to stay cool on a hot summer day.

1. Ice Down.   Keep a full water bottle in the freezer.  Before heading out for a run, hike or walk, grab it and carry it with you.  “Holding something cold helps you feel cooler,” says ultra trail runner Adam Chase, the captain of Team Salomon, based in Boulder, Colorado.

2. Shower before you go.  “Precooling is a technique athletes regularly use,” says George Havenith, Ph.D., an expert in human thermo-physiology at Loughborough University in the U.K.  By lowering your body temperature before you exercise in the extreme heat, you can typically go longer than an athlete who has not.

This is a tip I personally use before I teach my 6:30 a.m. boot camp classes.  The cool (not ice cold) water not only invigorates my mind, but also increases blood flow to the skin, such as your head, under arms and wrists and groin area, which all help to keep your core temperature down.

3. Double your drinking.  To keep from becoming dehydrated, drink 12 ounces of H2O before you hit the road.    While exercising, drink water every 15 minutes to stay on top of your hydration.  Switch to a drink with potassium and sodium, such as Gatorade® if you are exercising for longer than an hour, because your body loses those electrolytes through sweat.

4. And finally, wear a heart rate monitor.  For hot-weather workouts, you want to keep your heart rate at or below 85% of the max, according the American Heart Association; this is not the time to push your intensity, so check your heart rate monitor.

So, don’t let the rising mercury dissuade you from getting outside.  Just take the right steps to keep your cool and enjoy the summer!

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