Beat the Heat!


Given that we’ve had a number of requests for a discussion on summer and/or heat sports safety, I had an ironic thing happen to me this week while on vacation in South Carolina. It was a beautiful sunny day and I had been pretty slack in my workout regimine while off work, so I decided to do my workout outside. I was invigorated by finally getting my heart rate up and I threw myself into sets of pull-ups, push-ups, abs and jump rope. About halfway into a workout that I have done many times without too much difficulty I began to feel nauseated. I noticed that I was sweating much more than usual and a quick check of my heart rate came back at 170 (much higher than I would expect 20 minutes in to this workout).



I sat down under a shade tree to take a break, hoping the feeling would pass and I could resume my workout, but instead I noticed I felt a bit dizzy and was cramping in my calf muscles. I decided to call it quits, laid down on a bench in the shade and started downing electrolyte fluid (my preference and recommendation on this, by the way, is Advocare Rehydrate).




Interestingly, I had not really paid much attention to the fact that the ambient temperature was 90 degrees Fahrenheit and the humidity was 85% – a heat index of 117. Furthermore, I was in full sunshine, which is thought by some to increase the index by as much as 15 degrees.  I had done some other numbskull things too: I had 3 cups of coffee that morning and I have been on a high protein, low carbohydrate diet (which demands a little better than usual hydration). In short, because I wasn’t thinking about the summer heat conditions I had dialed up a perfect recipe for heat exhaustion, or worse, heat stroke.  Luckily, I noticed the symptoms relatively early and had some good electrolyte replenishment on hand. I was reminded of an important lesson though – good intentions and even good understanding are useless in sports safety without appropriate actions. Don’t do what I did and plan ahead for safety in the summer heat. Below are both the signs and symptoms of heat related illness and some tips on how to avoid them both.



Heat Cramps


Occur in the setting of excessive sweating and muscle spasm. They can involve virtually any muscle group, but are most common in the calves, quads, glutes, and hamstrings.


Treat with small, but frequent amounts of water/electrolyte intake and gentle extensile stretching of the muscle group.



Heat Exhaustion



This is generally characterized by heavy perspiration, weakness, elevated pulse, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and and/or syncope (fainting). Interestingly, skin may be cool and/or clammy, cramps may or may not be present, and body temperature can be normal.


Treatment is likewise small, frequent doses of water/electrolytes for rehydration. One also needs to quickly move to a cooler, shaded environment. Apply cool, moist towels to skin. Remove or loosen any constrictive clothing.




Heat Stroke



Some counter-intuitive things begin to occur in heat stroke. Sweating may cease. Altered mental status (like confusion) may set in. Skin temperature may be elevated (eg 106 degrees).  Other symptoms are rapid pulse, shallow breathing, headache, and even loss of consciousness.



Heat stroke is a significant, potentially life-threatening medical emergency. If it is suspected, fluids shouldNOT be administered, but rather emergency medical assistance (dial 911) should be sought. In the meantime, the individual should be moved to a cool, air-conditioned or shady environment and cold, moist towels or a water mister applied while awaiting assistance.



Some additional heat safety tips:



     Schedule vigorous participation or activities for the coolest times of day or evening.


     Make sure that there is plenty of adequate hydration on hand and that participants have adequately hydrated prior to starting.


     Make sure that gear which may increase heat levels is kept to a minimum (i.e. headgear only for football).


     If the heat index is above 80 be sure to take frequent water breaks (at least every 20 minutes) and have ice and towels ready.


     If participating in the sun, be sure to wear appropriate sun-block.


     Significantly limit or eliminate intake of caffeine and alcohol in the days leading up to sporting in the heat and sun.


     Do not take salt tablets unless prescribed by a physician.


     Be sure to wear cool, loose fitting clothing if possible.



Finally, and to reiterate, none of these tips is remotely useful if not accompanied by action. Until next time, Stay Well.



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