How to Prevent Illness and Injury When Working Out in Hot Weather

Medically Reviewed By | Dr. Kate Panawash, PT, NCS, DPT

With summer well and truly here, some of the hottest days of the year in the northern hemisphere are now upon us. If you have an established fitness routine or have started to develop one, you’ll undoubtedly want to continue with that during the summer months. 

Where possible, it’s a good idea to exercise indoors when it’s very hot out. Gyms and fitness facilities are equipped with air conditioning to keep you safe and cool. But sometimes you might want or need to exercise outside. 

Working out in hot weather does carry some risks. Heatstroke, dehydration, and heat exhaustion are just some of the potentially serious consequences of not taking proper care of yourself in the summer. No matter how fit you are, exercising in extreme heat puts additional stress on your body. 

But with a little know-how and a few basic precautions, you can keep fit and keep yourself safe all summer long. Here are our top tips to help you stay safe and well as you work out in the summer sun. 

Exercise Earlier or Later

The sun is strongest in the middle of the day. By working out in the morning or evening, you will avoid the hottest part of the day and minimize your risk of heat-related problems. Check the weather forecast as you’re planning your workout for the day or week, and try to schedule in sessions at cooler times of the day. 

Stay Hydrated

It is always essential to stay well hydrated when you’re exercising, and this is even more true during hot weather. When you exercise, your body loses water through sweat. The hotter it is, the more profusely you are likely to sweat. 

Drink plenty of water throughout your workout but don’t forget to stay hydrated before and after exercising, too. “It is important to hydrate regularly throughout the entire day,” notes Katelyn Panawash, Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) and Board Certified Neurologic Clinical Specialist (NCS). You can also keep your hydration levels high by snacking on water-rich foods such as watermelon, lettuce, grapefruit, and tomatoes. 

Drink plenty of water throughout your workout but don’t forget to stay hydrated before and after exercising, too. You can also keep your hydration levels high by snacking on water-rich foods such as watermelon, lettuce, grapefruit, and tomatoes. 

If you’re doing a long exercise session (60 minutes or above), sports drinks can be a useful way to replace some of the salts and nutrients lost through sweating. 

Symptoms of dehydration include feeling thirsty, feeling dizzy or lightheaded, urine that is dark or strong-smelling, a dry mouth or dry lips, excessive tiredness, or a feeling of confusion. 

Wear Appropriate Clothing

Dressing appropriately while you exercise helps to prevent injury, and it is also a vital part of keeping cool in hot weather. Lightweight, light colored garments in moisture-wicking fabrics are ideal. 

“Try looser fitting clothing, this allows increased air flow across the skin and allows your body's natural cooling mechanisms work their best. Wearing a t-shirt vs a tank top will reduce the sun exposure and can help keep the body cooler. Lightweight hats are a great way to keep the sun off your face while still allowing you to keep cool,” Panawash says.

If you are wearing any additional protective gear, such as pads or a helmet, this can also contribute towards a raised body temperature. Take them off periodically to let yourself cool down if possible, and keep the duration of your workout short. 

Use Sunscreen

If you are going to be outside in the sun for any period of time, it is vital to wear sunscreen. This protects you from short-term problems such as painful burns, and long-term complications such as skin cancer. 

Use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, and re-apply it every 30 minutes or so during your workout. Water-resistant sunscreen will stay put on your skin for longer if you are sweating heavily. 

Use Recovery Wear

Exercising in hot weather can increase your risk of injuries such as strains, sprains, and excessive muscle fatigue. Using appropriate recovery garments after your workout can help your body to recover more quickly and effectively and reduce any pain or discomfort. 

Choose the right recovery wear garments for the type of exercise you’re doing. For example, runners may wish to focus on the legs and feet, while those who play racquet sports might focus on the arms, elbows, and shoulders. 

Pay Attention to Your Body

If you are going to exercise in hot weather, it’s vital to know the signs of heat-induced problems. Listen to your body and if something doesn’t feel right, stop. 

Some of the signs you might be suffering from heat exhaustion include:

  • Muscle cramps or weakness
  • Excessive tiredness
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • A headache
  • Fainting
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Feeling nauseous or vomiting

If not treated, heat exhaustion can lead to the more serious condition of heatstroke. Symptoms of heatstroke include:

  • Dry, hot skin that isn’t sweating
  • A temperature of 103F or above
  • Seizures or loss of consciousness
  • A weak, rapid pulse
  • A sense of confusion

If you have any of the symptoms of heat exhaustion, stop exercising immediately. Rest in a cool place and drink plenty of water. If you or someone around you is suffering any of the signs of heatstroke, seek medical attention immediately. 

It is always better to cut a workout short than to risk a potentially serious complication. 

Stay safe, and enjoy your summer. 

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