BRIAN PARR’S HEALTH AND FITNESS: Keeping your cool
Whether you are going for a run, taking the kids to the playground or working outdoors, the hot, humid summer conditions can impact your activities. This can range from making your outdoor time less comfortable to putting you at risk for dehydration or, in extreme cases, heat stroke. When it is hot and humid, your body cannot get rid of heat as easily, so your body temperature will increase. This problem is made worse when you are active, so people who exercise or do physical labor are a greater risk. Planning ahead and taking precautions can make your outdoor time safer and more enjoyable. Here are a few suggestions.
Avoid the hottest times
Try to plan your outdoor activity in the morning or evening to avoid the hottest times of the day. Keep in mind that the highest temperatures often occur in the late afternoon or early evening, so right after work may not be the best time for outdoor activities. Early in the morning is probably the best time since it tends to be cooler and less humid.
Seek out shade
Being in the sun means that you will feel even hotter because you gain heat from the sun’s rays. Spending as much time as you can in the shade will help you stay cool. While this isn’t always practical for all activities, look for shady spots to take breaks. Keep in mind that shady areas will change throughout the day, so plan your trip to the playground accordingly.
Pick cool clothes
Synthetic fabrics that wick sweat from the skin can help keep you feel cooler. Lighter colored clothing will reduce heat gain from the sun. And having more skin exposed will allow you to lose more heat.
The longer you are active the hotter you will get. So taking frequent breaks will give you a chance to rest, cool down and get something to drink.
Drink plenty of fluids
When it’s hot. you have to sweat to lose heat and maintain your body temperature. High humidity makes sweating less effective, so you sweat even more. Losing lots of water through sweating can lead to dehydration. At the very least, you probably will feel fatigued, but in more severe cases dizziness, low blood pressure and fainting can occur. For this reason it is important to drink plenty of fluids before, during and after your outdoor activity.
How much should you drink? In most cases, thirst is a good indicator. However, if you are doing prolonged exercise or physical labor you should take frequent breaks to rehydrate even if you don’t feel thirsty. A cup (8 ounces) of water every 15 minutes is a good goal. Make sure to remind kids to take breaks since they can get so busy playing that they forget. Water, juice, sports drinks and other soft drinks are equally effective, so pick something you will drink.
Sun exposure is the leading cause of skin cancer. Always use a broad-spectrum – both UVA and UVB rays – sunscreen and apply (and reapply) it according to the instructions. You should also protect your eyes by wearing a hat or sunglasses.
These tips should help you and your family safely enjoy spending time outdoors this summer. You may not be able to plan your activities in the shade or when it is cooler. This is especially true for people who work outdoors. In these cases, drinking plenty of fluids and taking frequent breaks is particularly important.
Brian Parr, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the Department of Exercise and Sports Science at USC Aiken where he teaches courses in exercise physiology, nutrition and health behavior. He is a member of the American College of Sports Medicine and is an ACSM certified clinical exercise specialist; his research focuses on physical activity in weight management and the impact of the environment on activity and diet.