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How do I exercise safely in summer heat?
How do I exercise safely in summer heat

Health Tips brought to you by U.S. HealthWorks Medical Group. Our experienced medical experts provide information here that we hope will broaden your health care knowledge.

It’s summertime, and while the weather outside is inviting to many people, there is a concern that exercising in the sun too long can cause overheating, dehydration or sunburn. Today, Dr. Anuruddh Misra, sports medicine expert and medical director for U.S. HealthWorks in South San Francisco, discusses how to exercise safely during the heat of the summer – and why a little bit of safe sun exposure is good for us. Dr. Misra is double Board Certified in Sports Medicine and Internal Medicine.

Q: Can you give your professional opinion about how best to exercise in the heat of summer, keeping in mind the benefits of exercise outdoors but also being mindful of the dangers?

A: There are many levels to this question. First, we as a society do not exercise enough by a considerable margin. It is estimated today that approximately two-thirds of our American population either qualifies as overweight or obese, which is the root cause for many of the preventable medical problems we deal with today.

To that end, it is pivotal to get in the minimal exercise per week recommended for adults (no less than 150 minutes of cardio per week and no less than 250 to 300 minutes of cardio per week for children), even during summer months.

Often the excessive heat and concerns around skin problems (e.g. sunburn, skin cancer) become convenient excuses to avoid exercise outright. To be sure, there are some precautions that need to be taken. Most are common sense, but I believe a summary is useful:

  1. Drink up – hydration has the greatest impact on training since exercise dehydrates us.
  2. Ease up – if you’re used to working out in cooler climates, one must gradually acclimatize accordingly.
  3. Avoid the hottest part of the day, which is typically between 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. (depending on GPS location).
  4. Wear light colors so you don’t absorb as much heat from the sun, and focus on lightweight clothing to allow for heat transference from your body to the ambient environment.
  5. Eat snacks to maintain energy – it is easy to lose sight of caloric needs. Try to use a 6% to 8% carbohydrate-electrolyte solution (most sports drinks are adequate) whenever possible while exercising.
  6. Know when to stop – it is important to “listen to the language of your body” and to know when you are truly done for the day.

Q: What are the safest exercises to do when the weather is hottest?

A: Water sports are generally safe from the standpoint of concerns related to overheating. Any controlled environment (such as the gym) is typically safe as well, however one must be mindful of overheating indoors, too.

Some sports are riskier because of the threat of heat illness. These include marathons, cycling, mountain biking, soccer, rock climbing and other activities that can be especially exhausting – particularly when conditions are humid outside.

Q: Heat is often seen as a risk factor, but are there health benefits to being outside during the summer?

A: As an industrialized society, sun exposure is perhaps the most important thing we miss out on. We often don’t get the natural Vitamin D we would otherwise be getting if we spent more time outdoors. This has numerous implications, one of which is that at least 50% of our nation is Vitamin D deficient, which has multiple far-reaching health effects. Thankfully, there are resources available to help people understand more about the importance of Vitamin D. I’d like to share two useful tools from colleagues of mine.

The first is an app called dminder, which was created by an Endocrinologist and fellow Internal Medicine physician, Dr. Michael Holick. Dr. Holick is an accomplished researcher in the field of Vitamin D and created this app for mobile devices to prompt users as to when they can capture the most Vitamin D based on their GPS location.

The second is a three-minute YouTube cartoon video from AsapSCIENCE, based in Canada, about the importance of Vitamin D in basic terms. It is useful to help grasp why Vitamin D is so essential to our health.

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  • American College of Physicians
  • Andrews Research & Education Foundation
  • American Board of Internal Medicine
  • JJM Medical College