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Ester Marsh column: Use caution when exercising in extreme heat

Personally, I love hot weather. Maybe it’s because I am an August baby and the summer of ’66 was one hot summer in the Netherlands! Exercising in extreme heat is no joke — it can actually be very bad for your health if you don’t take the proper precautions. Sometimes, it’s hard to adjust your schedule, especially when you are training for something, like my half iron man and our YMCA track and field team training for this season. With our track team, we are very fortunate to practice at South Rowan High School, and by 6 p.m., at least half of the track is in the shade. We make sure the kids (and parents) stay hydrated and we adjust the workouts when needed. What helps is that we have been working out since March 14, so the kids have been adjusting to the temperatures rising throughout our season. It is important to get acclimated since the meets are full-day meets, where, at times, the mid-distance kids have run their races in the hottest part of the day.

And people are different. Certain people adjust a lot quicker to hot temperatures than others. For many people, exercising inside in air-conditioned areas works best for them. So before you exercise in extreme heat, check the following:

• Watch the temperatures and avoid the hottest part of the day

• Have a backup plan when it’s too hot at the time you can exercise.

• Get acclimated. When we drive to our practice, we typically have the windows down getting used to the hot temperatures. Staying in air conditioning until you exercise outside in extreme heat is a shock to your system. If you have not exercised at all in extreme heat, stay indoors for exercise or find cooler early mornings or late evenings to exercise.

• Know your fitness level. The better shape you are in, the better you can adjust to hotter temperatures. You still have to take all the precautions needed to exercise in hot weather.

• Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. It’s imperative to stay hydrated, not only before, during and after your workout,  but also throughout the day. If you are thirsty, you already are dehydrated.

• Wear light-colored, lose-fitting, lightweight clothing, such as Dri-fit material.

• Understand the medical risks about getting overheated while exercising in hot conditions.

Warning signs heat related illnesses:

• Heat cramps, painful muscle contractions most likely related to low electrolytes and dehydration.

• Heat syncope, or fainting, is a mild form of heat illness where the body tries to cool down, dilating the blood vessels so much that the blood flow to the brain is reduced with a chance of fainting.

• Heat exhaustion is where body temperature rises up to 104 degrees with nausea, vomiting, weakness and cold and clammy skin. Heat exhaustion can turn into heat stroke if body doesn’t get cooled down.

• Heat stroke, which is life threatening, is where the body temperature rises more than 104 degrees. Symptoms include skin that feels feel hot but is not sweating, dizziness, confusion, irritability, nausea and/or vomiting, severe headache, increased heart rate, low blood pressure, visual problems and possible seizures. You need immediate medical attention to prevent brain damage, organ failure or even death.

If you have the slightest inclination that you are getting overheated, stop exercising and get in the shade or air-conditioning. Hydrate and rest, take a cool shower or apply ice or cold water to skin. If you do not feel better within 30 minutes, seek medical attention. Most of us are exercising for our health, so no workout is worth putting your health at risk by getting overheated. I know I had to adjust my workouts these past two weeks due to the extreme heat. In the end, our bodies will thank us.

Ester H Marsh Associate executive Director JF Hurley Family YMCA

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