Staying safe in the sun

There’s a heatwave going on (finally) and I wanted to share a few tips for exercising during a hot spell. Having worked as a personal trainer in Western Australia for several years, I know just how challenging it can be but providing you take sensible precautions you can still train safely outdoors.

We all know the risks of sunburn but working out during hot weather can also result in a range of heat-related illnesses including heat cramps, heat stroke and heat stroke. Given our climate here in the UK, it may sound far-fetched but under-estimated the weather and ended up with a severe case of  heat stroke in Harrogate. It’s important to be able to recognise the symptoms and know how to treat them as they can be life-threatening.

Heat cramps

What is it?

Heat cramps are muscle spasms, most commonly felt in the arms, legs and abdomen. During prolonged or intense training heavy sweating can deplete the body’s supply of electrolytes, particularly sodium.

How can you treat it?

To treat heat cramps, stop exercising and consume plenty of fluids. Some sports drinks contain electrolytes, which can help to restore the body’s balance. Gently stretch and massage the muscle and apply a compress or towels.

Heat Exhaustion

What is it?

Heat exhaustion occurs when the body becomes too hot, resulting in fatigue, dizziness, weakness, nausea and headaches. Under normal conditions, the body is able to regulate temperature but exercising in high temperatures and failing to replace lost fluids means the systems that regulate body temperature can become overwhelmed. Left untreated, heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke.

How can you treat it?

If you think you are suffering from heat exhaustion stop exercising immediately. Drink fluids and lie down with your feet elevated. Apply cold, wet towels to lower your temperature. If symptoms continue seek medical advice.

Heat stroke

What is it?

Heat stroke occurs when the body’s cooling systems fail and the core temperature rises above 40.5 degrees C. It can result in organ failure, brain damage and even death. Symptoms include high body temperature, hot, red and dry skin, rapid pulse, shallow rapid breathing and confused behaviour.

How can you treat it?

Heat stroke is a severe illness that requires immediate medical attention. While waiting for the emergency services to arrive you should move into the shade, remove as much clothing as possible and cool the body with water or placing ice packs in the armpit and groin areas.

Top tips for exercising safely in the heat

  • Avoid the hottest times of the day. Training early in the morning or later in the evening will help to reduce the risk.
  • Stay hydrated. Drinking fluids before, during and after exercise will help to maintain hydration levels. Water is adequate for hydration but if you’re doing endurance training you may like to try a sports drink, which will also help to replace lost carbohydrates and electrolytes. You should also avoid diuretic drinks such as caffeine and alcohol.
  • Dress appropriately. Cool, loose clothing is a must, preferable made from a sweat wicking fabric. If you’re wearing short sleeves or shorts, ensure you are using a high factor suncscreen. Alternatively, look for sports gear made from UV resistant fabrics. Make sure you also have a cap or hat to protect your head.
  • Decrease the intensity and take regular breaks. Even if you’re super-fit you will be affected by the heat. Listen to your body and, if necessary, exercise at a lower level than usual.
  • Head for the shade. Most parks have trees or undercover areas which will provide shade. If you’re out running or walking, try to stick to the shady side of the street.
  • Train with a friend. Having a training partner is always fun and it’s a great way to stay safe in the sun. You will be able to keep an eye on each other and, if necessary, organise help.

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