Summer Safety Tips for Outdoor Exercise

The summer sun has a way of motivating all of us to exercise. But as temperatures rise, you need to be smart about physical activity, so you can reap the rewards of outdoor exercise and stay safe in the process.

Speak with Your Healthcare Provider

It’s always wise to touch base with a medical professional before increasing your level of physical activity. This is especially important if you’re older than 50, are dealing with orthopaedic issues or have a history of heart problems, stroke, diabetes or other chronic conditions.

“Really, before anyone embarks on a fitness program, they should be talking to their primary care provider,” says Erica Martin, MD, a family medicine specialist and sports medicine physician with ProMedica in Toledo.

Your provider is best suited to recommend the exercise plan that’s right for you.

Get Ready and Set Before You Go

It’s not easy — or advisable — to jump headfirst into outdoor exercise if you’re not in good physical shape.

“If someone has not exercised in quite some time, and they decide they want to embark on an exercise program in the middle of summer, they first need to establish some base level of fitness indoors, in a more climate-controlled environment,” says Dr. Martin.

You might try mall walking, for example. Or perhaps, spend time on a treadmill. Summertime heat takes a toll when you’re unaccustomed to it and can lead to serious heat-related illness. Establishing a base level of fitness makes a difference.

“The fitter we are, the better we are at regulating our body temperature,” says Dr. Martin. “Sweat rate increases and heat dispensation, in general, becomes more efficient. We’re also better in tune with perceived exertion.”

Dress for Success

The sun can cause sunburn, which increases your risk for skin cancer. It can also damage your eyes and cause overheating. Wear loose, lightweight clothing, and where skin is exposed, sunscreen. Dr. Martin recommends a mineral-based product with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 to 50.

“The benefit of anything over SPF 50 is minimal,” she says.

Reapply your sunscreen according to the product label, especially if you sweat heavily or spend time in water. And for additional protection, wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses that clearly state they provide UV protection.

Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate

You lose water from your body when you sweat. So, staying properly hydrated — before, during and after physical activity — is critical. But don’t rely on your sense of thirst.

“If you’re thirsty, you’re already a little bit dehydrated,” says Dr. Martin. The best indicator of hydration level is your urine color,” she continues. “You’re looking for urine that’s the color of light lemonade.”

Dr. Martin recommends drinking 8 to 16 ounces of fluid in the hours leading up to your exercise and 8 ounces 15 to 30 minutes before exercising outside. And water is best. During exercise, she recommends 13 to 27 ounces per hour.

“Most people, if they’re exercising for less than an hour at a time, don’t need fancy sports drinks,” says Dr. Martin. “But if you’re exercising more than an hour, indoors or outdoors, I would encourage people to get some sort of electrolyte replacement.”

She adds that sugar-free products don’t provide the needed electrolytes.

Know When to Go

Try to avoid exercising in peak sun and heat, which is generally between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m., according to Dr. Martin. If there are heat advisories, pollution alerts, or other things that would suggest outdoor exercise might not be safe, Dr. Martin advises to move your workout inside.

“In those cases, any potential benefit that someone’s getting from exercising outdoors is probably outweighed by the potential risks,” she says.

Recognize Heat Illness

Of course, recognizing heat-related illness is important, too. Here are a few things to look for:

  • Heat cramps are a sign that your body is in distress. Get to a shady area, drink something cool and rest.
  • Heat exhaustion may cause symptoms including heavy sweating, nausea, vomiting, dizziness and headache, but no changes in mental status. With these symptoms, try to get out of the heat, remove excess clothing and put cold towels on areas that radiate heat, such as the groin and armpits.
  • Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness. Its symptoms are similar to those of heat exhaustion, but confusion is also present, and there may be little sweating even though body temperature may be 103 degrees or higher.

“Heat stroke is a medical emergency,” says Dr. Martin. “You need to call EMS immediately.” While you wait for help, getting out of the heat and quickly cooling down is vital.

Have Fun

Finally, as you exercise, focus on fun.

“The most important thing with exercise is that people find what they enjoy doing and that they’re going to do routinely,” says Dr. Martin. “Just be cautious. Be smart about things and don’t try to push your body’s limits.”

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