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Exercising in the Heat: How to recognize heat stroke

Posted Aug 05 2011 9:24am

Most people think that exercising during the hot summer months is easier than it is during the winter. Who wouldn’t want to enjoy a hike in the mountains or a stroll on the beach during a warm summer day? What people often forget about is that, during a heat wave, your body has a more difficult time cooling down and staying hydrated. It’s important for summer time athletes and fitness buffs to account for the weather when they plan their workouts. While there’s no reason to avoid exercising in August, there’s definitely a need to drink extra water and learn what the warning signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke are.

Although prevention should be your top priority, it’s equally important to recognize the symptoms of heat-related illnesses so that you may treat them in a timely manner. Here are some warning signs that you may be experiencing a heat-related condition:

  • muscle cramps
  • aching muscles
  • a feeling of weakness
  • fatigue
  • nausea
  • confusion, brain fog or anxiety
  • dizziness or vertigo
  • fainting
  • headache
  • unusually fast heart rate
  • slow or weak heart rate
  • dry skin or mouth
  • fever
  • excessive sweating coupled with clammy skin
  • a significant decrease in sweat or urine production
  • convulsions

If you or someone you are with begins to experience any of these symptoms, it’s important to respond appropriately. According to the CDC, all heat illnesses are preventable and are not usually fatal when treated promptly.

For mild symptoms, the affected person should be moved to the coolest, shadiest place possible and encouraged to drink water. Cooling packs can be used on the neck, underarms and groin area to help facilitate a normal body temperature. If serious signs of heat stroke manifest (such as confusion, fever, convulsions or lack of consciousness) then seek medical attention immediately.

Remember, it’s perfectly safe to exercise in hot weather but pay attention to the cues your body gives. If you feel dehydrated, nauseous or in any way out-of-the-norm, then stop what you’re doing and take some time to cool down and re-hydrate.

As with any change to your exercise regimen, slowly build up your body’s tolerance to the heat. If you’re in a part of the country experiencing a heat wave (and really, who isn’t besides me, up here in Seattle?!) then allow yourself time to gradually increase the intensity and length of your activity with each day.

Heat-related illnesses are no joke. When left untreated they can cause organ failure and brain damage. According to MSNBC, the CDC recognizes heat illnesses as “a leading cause of death and disability among high school and college athletes.” While you might not be a student, the severity of this statement rings true for all of us.

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