Three Ways to Avoid Heat-Related Illness While Exercising

hot runner

For many athletes, nothing beats a nice, long run under the Missouri sun. However, too much heat can quickly become dangerous — and potentially fatal. 

According to Christopher Sampson, MD, an emergency medicine doctor with MU Health Care, people of all ages and athletic abilities should be wary of heat exhaustion while exercising on hot days.

“Extreme heat impacts even the highest-level athletes,” Sampson said. “Anyone can fall victim to heat exhaustion, and it’s very important to recognize the warning signs.”

Early symptoms of heat exhaustion include excessive sweating, heart palpitations and lightheadedness, Sampson said. Furthermore, the overall absence of sweat during exercise is also a red flag, as this is an indication that severe dehydration and potentially heatstroke has set in.

Christopher Sampson, MD
Christopher Sampson, MD

“If you feel like the heat is getting to you, find a cooler area as quickly as you can,” Sampson said. “Get in the shade, splash cool water on your face and body and don’t hesitate to seek medical help if your symptoms persist or worsen.”

Extreme heat interferes with the body’s ability to regulate its internal temperature and maintain hydration, and without proper treatment, heat exhaustion often leads to heat stroke — an ailment which can cause seizures, permanent brain injury and even death.

Take Extra Precautions

Ideally, it would be best to exercise indoors on a treadmill or stationary bike when the temperature soars. But if a big outdoor race happens to occur on an extra-hot day, Sampson suggests taking the following precautions:

  • Wear “Cool” Clothes. Wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothes made of synthetic materials. Dark colors absorb more heat than light colors, loose clothing promotes better air circulation and synthetic materials allow for better sweat evaporation.
  • Double Down on Fluids. Given the increased risk of dehydration, drink more fluids than usual before, during and after the workout. Start hydrating the night before, carry a water bottle during the workout and continue drinking throughout the rest of the day. Avoid caffeine and alcohol, as they dehydrate the body.
  • Don’t Overdo It. Take plenty of breaks, even if it means taking longer to finish the workout or race. Avoid exercising in extreme heat while feeling under the weather or getting over an illness, as this will make it even more difficult for the body to regulate its internal temperature. Seniors, pregnant women and people with heart conditions should be especially cautious about exercising on hot days and should consult a doctor before doing so.

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