Summer is synonymous with the outdoors and all the fun activities that go along with it—including taking your everyday workouts outside. But as we hit the height of summer and temperatures spike, it’s important to make sure you stay safe while working out.
“Practicing safe exercise habits in the heat is important because there is a risk of heat-related illness such as heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke,” says Hannah Chamblin from the Adult Fitness Center at Burke Rehabilitation Hospital and a master’s degree student in exercise science and nutrition at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, CT. “Heat-related illnesses are largely preventable. By taking some basic precautions, your exercise routine doesn't have to be sidelined when the heat is on.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind this season:
Try different activities—just be mindful of the time of day: Since it’s usually hottest in the middle of the day, it’s smart to avoid working out at that time. “Before 10:00 a.m. and after 3:00 p.m. are considered the best times to exercise outside in the summer,” says Chamblin. Some activities she recommends? Biking, walking the dog, swimming laps, or a mix of running and walking. “If someone is looking for something a little different, I would recommend going on a hike, fishing, kayaking, or swimming in a lake. These are all great activities to stay active in the summer heat." If you find it hard to acclimate to the heat or that you’re not getting as intense of a workout as you want because of it, it’s best to head inside.
Start slow: “Take it easy at first—in extreme heat you may need to dial back the intensity of your workouts and slowly increase over time so your body has time to adapt to the new conditions,” Chamblin says.
Up your water routine: It’s important to stay hydrated—but don’t wait until you actually feel thirsty before you start sipping. “Many people don't feel thirsty until they're already dehydrated. That's why it's important to increase water intake during hot weather,” says Chamblin. Some signs you may be dehydrated include feeling dizzy, fatigued, not urinating as often as usual, or if your urine is darker in color. “Before working out, it is recommended to drink about 16-24 ounces of water. Throughout the workout, if able, drinking about six to eight ounces of water every 15 minutes is also recommended and beneficial. Post workout, two or more cups of water or a low-sugar sports drink to replenish your electrolytes is necessary.” Also smart? Put down that coffee: Skipping caffeine a few hours before a warm-weather workout is recommended.
Choose an ICE number: Whether you’re listening to music or simply have it tucked in your pocket, it’s rare to be out and about—even exercising—without your phone these days. Here’s a way to make it work for you: “Program an ICE contact (In Case of Emergency) into your phone,” advises Kathleen Siegel, M.S., NSCA-CSCS, ACSM-CET, Director of Community Wellness at Burke. “This number can be called in the case that you need help.” Don’t want to take it with you? Simply letting a loved one know where you’re headed and how long you’ll be gone can be life-saving. And no matter what, when you’re working out, if you’re not feeling well—faint or nauseous, for example—stop.
Take it slower post-rehabilitation: “Anyone who has gone through rehab for an illness or injury should follow the protocol for recovery given by a medical professional,” says Chamblin. That includes taking all the precautions mentioned for exercising in the heat—and then being even more mindful. “I would recommend starting indoors, taking a little extra time to acclimate to the heat, and decreasing duration and intensity more than the average individual.” Even if you’re not post-rehab, it’s still important to get the okay from your doctor ahead of starting a workout plan, like one that takes place outside in the heat.