by Grady Cash
Summer is a great time to be outdoors, but the heat does pose challenges, specifically sunburn and heat illnesses that can be serious if not treated promptly. Here’s how to recognize these summer problems before it’s too late.
Recognize Heat Illnesses
It’s a good idea to increase fluid intake in hot weather to avoid dehydration, but if you’re constantly drinking water and still feel thirsty, it could be the onset of hyponatremia, an electrolyte imbalance caused by drinking too much water that may lead to organ failure or death. First aid for hyponatremia is to reduce fluid intake, take an electrolyte solution, and seek immediate medical attention.
Excessive heat can also result in heat exhaustion or heatstroke. These common heat-related illnesses are difficult to diagnose because dehydration, hyponatremia, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke have common symptoms: headaches, confusion, and nausea. However, there are some subtle differences. Profuse sweating and clammy skin are signs of heat exhaustion, but when sweating stops and the skin becomes dry, it could be a sign the problem has progressed to potentially life-threatening heatstroke. If symptoms are serious or persist after a half hour, seek medical attention. By recognizing the early signs of these illnesses, you can take preventive steps — get out of the sun into a cool place, wear a cap, use ice packs on your neck, and only drink fluids with an electrolyte solution, like a sports drink.
Here are some strategies to cope with hot weather.
One simple solution is to do your workouts indoors during extremes of hot or cold weather. I’m a member of three different fitness centers: Vanderbilt for its indoor 300-meter track, Boost FitClub for its indoor soccer field, and a third fitness center with equipment not available in the other two.
Of course, sometimes, we don’t have a choice. We might be doing a group run or an outdoor competition where the heat can’t be avoided. Here’s how to beat the heat in those situations.
Microclimates are regions with significantly different temperatures than nearby locations. One microclimate only a few minutes from downtown Nashville is Percy Warner Park, which can be 10° cooler than Vanderbilt. Shaded fields or trails near lakes, rivers, or forests are other examples of microclimates.
Wear loose-fitting, light-colored, sleeveless tops that cover the shoulders. If the top is long, get it hemmed to just below the waist so you can leave it untucked to provide more ventilation. This is amazingly effective. I just use scissors to cut off the top to the desired length. Wear a white cap with lots of mesh. Make sure there’s adequate room to allow air to flow between the cap and your hair. Use a nongreasy sunscreen. Oily sunscreens hinder sweating’s cooling effect.
Shave Your Legs
This may sound radical to guys, but hair is just a layer of fur. You don’t need fur in the summer! Many male swimmers and cyclists routinely shave their legs. It’s amazingly cooler. Try it. If you don’t like it, the hair will grow back in a couple of weeks. A beard trimmer is fast and effective.
Have Summer Socks and Shoes
We wear sandals in summer and boots with thick socks in winter, yet most runners wear the same shoes and socks all year around. After a hot summer run, I weighed my socks. They had soaked up over five ounces of sweat apiece! Gross! Plus, every added ounce of shoe weight slows your pace by one second per mile. The solution is to wear thin socks and shoes with lots of mesh in summer and thicker socks and shoes with very little mesh in the winter.
As your body gets hotter, blood flow diverts to capillaries near the surface of the skin to help you stay cool, but that adversely affects performance. Last year, at the National Senior Games in Alabama in July, I knew heat would take a toll over the three-day competition, so I stayed in the shade while my competitors stood in the sun. I wore a long sleeve, white compression top and put ice cubes on the inside of my elbow and wrists. I also periodically held ice cubes against the side of my neck where the blood vessels are closest to the skin. I wore a white cap until immediately before my events started. Then, I poured ice water over my hair and neck. Not only is this cooling, but the wet hair also acts as a wick to evaporate water and keep the head cool. If your hair is going to be wet with sweat by the end of the workout anyway, it doesn’t matter if it’s wet at the start!
These steps, plus drinking fluids with electrolytes, can help you beat the summer heat!