Getting overheated while working out can really ruin your day, maybe your life. That sounds dramatic, but it’s something to think about when temperatures climb.
How do you know when you’re getting overheated?
Overheating – or thermal strain – feels exhausting. You may be going your usual pace or even slower than normal but you have some or all of these symptoms:
- Cool, moist skin with goose bumps
- Heavy sweating
- Feeling Faint
- Weak, rapid pulse
- Muscle cramps
- You feel like you are working harder than expected
If you experience any of these symptoms, especially together, you should stop exercising, move to the shade, and get into a cool bath or hose off with cool water to lower your core temperature. If symptoms persist, seek medical attention.
Tolerating heat better comes from being able to dissipate heat efficiently – sweating more and sooner during exercise. While fit people tend to sweat more, they lose fewer electrolytes. As sweat evaporates, you maintain a better core temperature. We are lucky in Colorado, because our dry climate allows evaporation and thus cooling to occur more easily.
Avoiding heat exhaustion is possible; we can all acclimate to warm weather exercise over time, so working out in the spring, as temperatures gradually rise, is smart. And if you already exercise regularly, you’re ahead of the game, because you have a better tolerance for the heat if you’re physically fit.
And there are other things you can do to avoid heat exhaustion:
- Be careful about fluid intake: Contrary to popular belief, drinking more fluid does not help cool you down. That works for the radiator in your car, but not for you. In fact, drinking too much can create hyponatremia or low sodium. Many more athletes have died from drinking too much water than from drinking too little. Kenyan runners and other high level runners almost never drink during a long run, but rehydrate all evening, so they are ready for the next day.
- Replenish most of the lost fluids after your workout. If you are working out less than 90 minutes, you shouldn’t even need to carry water. And your body is very good at knowing how much water you need after exercise. Just drink when you feel thirsty.
- Wear light, loose clothing: You’ll stay cooler if you wear something light that reflects the sun. Looser clothing also allows sweat to evaporate more easily.
- Avoid exercise in the heat of the day. Why tempt fate? Because we are at altitude, our cool summer nights and mornings make workouts at those times of the day a no brainer.
- Medications: If you take aspirin or ibuprofen, these meds increase pro-inflammatory cytokines which can exacerbate the risk of exertional heat illness. Medicines for ADHD can also increase the likelihood of heat stress. So be extra careful about heat related problems if you are taking any of these medications. Caffeine, you’ll be happy to know, has no negative affect, even in large quantities.
BOTTOM LINE: Listen to your body – if your heart rate starts to soar, you feel more sluggish, nauseous, if you start to get a headache, or muscle cramps, you are probably overheated.