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Keeping Physical Activity Heart Healthy in Extreme Heat

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Heart Disease related image Photo: Getty Images

I keep looking for the souvenir T-shirt -- you know, the one that says “I Survived the Heat Wave of 2011!” Unless you live in a totally enclosed air-conditioned bubble from which you never venture, the heat is hard to miss - or escape. This is a summer of extreme heat and new heat related records for things such as highest daily temperature on record, most days of 100+ degree days in a row, hottest month on record, most days without rain, for example, are being set on a daily basis. Instead of frying eggs on the sidewalk, one of the local newscasters baked a pan of brownies out in the sun. Now, I don’t care where you’re from but that’s H-O-T!

When it comes to our heart health, one of the items that suffer in this type of extreme heat is physical activity. Lack of physical exercise or activity is one of the major risk factors for cardiovascular or heart disease. Let’s face it. For some exercise-challenged individuals, getting up and getting moving is hard enough to do when the weather is moderate. Add the extreme heat to the mix, and the only place most would like to move is closer to air conditioning vent! Unfortunately, most doctors do not consider getting up to turn the thermostat down a valid form of physical activity.

This type of extreme heat leaves us with a quandary. On one hand, you can’t simply take a summer vacation from physical activity – that’s bad for your heart health. On the other hand, how can you safely workout in this extreme heat without causing the very heart problems you’re trying to avoid?

The truth is that you can still engage in physical activity in extreme heat and protect your heart at the same time. But, in this extreme heat, you need to take a little extra care and be smart in planning your workout. Following are some tips to keep you and your heart healthy and safe when working out in extreme heat.

1. Water, water, and more water! Staying hydrated is essential during this extreme heat. Make certain you hydrate before you begin your workout and take water with you to rehydrate during your workout. Keep drinking that water even if you don’t feel thirsty. Chances are that you’re losing a lot more fluids than you realize and it’s important to replenish them to avoid dehydration. This is true for both indoor and outdoor physical activities.

2. Check your meds. Some medications don’t mix well with heat and can cause unwanted, unwelcome, and downright dangerous side effects. Before working out in this extreme heat, know how your medications will react to being in a supercharged, superheated environment.

3. Pick the right time. Even if the physical activity is indoors, avoid working out during the hottest part of the day. If possible, work out in the mornings or evenings when it’s somewhat cooler.

4. Dress for success. Dressing for success is not just for the office anymore – it’s actually essential to successfully working out in this extreme heat. Wear clothing appropriate for the activity. Choose fabrics that breathe. My personal favorite is a dry weave garment that dries quickly keeping sweat and moisture off the body. Don’t neglect your feet. Choose workout shoes that breathe and ventilate. If you’re outdoors, add a hat and sunglasses to the mix. One trick that a friend shared with me is that when running or biking in this heat, they purchased a long-sleeved shirt used by fisherman because the fabric dries quickly and is UV resistant. They wet the shirt down and put it on before the run. The fabric protects the arms from the sun during the run, and the wet shirt dries quickly but helps keep the body cool.

5. Break time! Know when to take a break. Working out in extreme heat is different than working out in moderate temperatures. If you’re hot, feel muscle fatigue or nausea – simply stop and take a break. This is your workout and part of the success is the fine art of knowing when to stop. So, when you feel like you need it, take a break, cool down, rehydrate, and get in out of the sun.

6. Be heat stroke aware. Know the symptoms of heat stroke and heat exhaustion. If you exhibit symptoms of either, stop exercising immediately, rehydrate, and cool down. If you suspect heat stroke, you should seek medical attention. According to the American Heart Association, symptoms of heat exhaustion include: headaches, heavy sweating, cold, moist skin, chills, dizziness, fainting, weak and rapid pulse, muscle cramps, fast or shallow breathing, nausea and vomiting. Symptoms of heat stroke include: warm dry skin with no sweating, strong rapid pulse, confusion, unconsciousness, high fever, severe headaches, nausea and vomiting.

Remember, what you’re trying to accomplish is to keep moving to keep your heart healthy. As little as four weeks of physical inactivity can literally set you back to square one and undo any good from prior workouts so a summer vacation from exercise isn’t an option. In this summer of extremes, remember that your goal isn’t an extreme workout – it’s working out heart smart in extreme heat.


Protect Your Heart in the Heat, American Heart Association, 28 Jul 2011

Exercise is Cool Despite the Heat, American Heart Association, 08 Aug 2011

Reviewed August 10, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Jody Smith

Add a Comment2 Comments


Thanks so much WillaLee...You are so right that it's important to continue to stay active and that the key is to be safe while working out. It's been 109 - 112 here all week (that's extreme!) and like you, I'm drinking plenty of water, picking the time, and dressing cool!

August 30, 2011 - 7:38pm

Thanks for the article and yes it has been a very hot and humid summer but I am not complaining,just being very aware of the times I go for walks and it seems to be late evening.I am drinking plenty of water. It is very important to keep active during the summer but also in extreme heat to be aware of your health and play it save.

August 20, 2011 - 5:13pm
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