This summer has been nothing if not glorious by Canadian standards. Hot and sunny days have stretched into one another inviting us to linger longer outdoors.
For many of our clients, the string of steamy days has also meant that regular workouts in the heat have become a reality. Since our summers tend to be short, Canadians are often not well adapted to exercising in the heat which can increase the stress of exercise on our bodies.
How Does Your Body Adapt to the Heat?
When we exercise in the heat, our core temperature is affected by three things; exercise itself, the ambient temperature and the humidity. As your core temperature rises so does your heart rate to send more blood to the skin and dissipate the heat from your body. This means that there is less available blood for your muscles, making them fatigue faster and less blood flow to power your circulatory system. (1)
Both can result in a decrease in performance. Laboratory testing has shown declines in performance starting as early as 15 minutes into exertion and at temperatures as low as 21℃. (2)
When temperature and humidity climb closer to our resting core temperature (37℃), body heat becomes harder to dissipate. This often coincides with sweat loss when we don’t take in adequate fluids.
The result can be the very dangerous situation of heat stroke.
What Does Heat Stroke Look Like?
Heat stroke is a medical emergency that results from prolonged exposure to high temperatures combined with dehydration to increase core body temperature to 40℃. It has the potential to damage both your brain tissue and internal organs.
Signs and symptoms of heat stroke include:
- Lack of Sweating
- Muscle cramping
- Red, hot but dry skin
- Increased heart rate
- Shallow breathing
- Confusion and disorientation
- Loss of consciousness
If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of heat stroke, call 911, try to move out of the sun and cool the body temperature. (3)
Benefits of Training in the Heat
While it is clear that mismanaged heat training can be dangerous, when proper precautions are taken, there can actually be performance benefits to exercising in the heat.
Like with all types of stress placed on the body, repeated exposures to heat can lead to adaptation and increased efficiency in higher temperatures. Training is hot conditions has been shown to have more performance adaptations than altitude training.
These adaptations include increased cardiovascular capacity and an ability to work at higher intensities and longer durations. Studies have also shown a mental adaptation where athletes demonstrate improve psychological preparedness higher exertional efforts. (4)
Need help building a progressive, heat safe exercise program? Want to know how to best fuel your body for improved workout performance? Our staff can help with specific functional strengthening program and individualized nutritional and supplement advice to help you reach your most audacious goals. Book an appointment today and start feeling the effects of a healthy burn.
How Can You Exercise Safely in the Heat?
If exercising in the heat is part of your reality, make sure you are doing it safely. Here are a few suggestions that will allow you to enjoy the adaptations of safe heat training without risking injury or illness.
- Keep it Short and Easy – limit both your duration and intensity as you start to workout in the heat.
- Move to the Beat of Your Heart – If you use heart rate as a training parameter, try working at a significantly lower heart rate than where you would normally train. Although setting a lower limit might make your workout feel easier than normal, it will allow for safe adaptation and before long you will be working at higher exertions.
- Keep the Water Flowing – It is important to replace the water your body is losing by drinking before, during and after your workout. You can also apply water to areas like your head, neck and skin to cool you and encourage heat dissipation.
- Get Salty – Normally water is sufficient for exercise sessions under 3 hours but in extreme heat you also lose electrolytes at a faster rate (have you ever noticed a salt ring on your clothes or hat?). Try adding a pinch of Himalayan salt to your water. It will help open sodium channels in your muscles and maintain better hydration. Whatever you do, avoid sugary energy drinks that will likely leave your gut hurting in their attempt to hydrate.
- Get Going Early or Stay Out Late – Choosing off hours mean you get the benefits of exercising outside but in less intense heat. It can be a great way to start your day or work off the stress of a busy day. Just be conscious to workout in safe, well lit areas and know that late night workouts have the potential to interfere with your sleep.
- Dress for Success – What you wear is pretty important when working out in the heat and sun. Aim for light colours that don’t absorb heat and fabrics that wick sweat away from the skin. Pick a light hat or visor that shades you face and layers you can easily strip away as the heat increases.
- Have an Exit Strategy – If you are going to expose yourself to stressful situations, make sure you have a plan in case your body does not react well. Run with a buddy who can help or let someone know where you will be and carry your phone in case you need to reach out for help.
Happy and safe sweating!
Melanie Stevens Sutherland, Clinic Director & Senior Orthopaedic and Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist
Melanie is a graduate of McMaster University and brings 17 years of experience as a senior physiotherapist to Body Co. She has enjoyed a long tenure working with active populations at prestigious sport medicine clinics. Past clients include Provincial, National and Olympic level athletes as well as members of the National Football League, the Canadian Football League, the Ontario Hockey League, the American Hockey League, the National Lacrosse League and Major League Soccer.
Following the birth of her own children, Melanie developed a strong interest in women’s health. She has taken specialized courses in pelvic floor physiotherapy and women’s nutrition. She is passionate about helping women find strength and confidence in their post-natal bodies following pregnancy and delivery.