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The Heat is On: Taking Precautions When Exercising Outdoors

By , SparkPeople Blogger
As many of you already know, I live deep in the heart of Texas. And while I would like to believe that it doesn’t get that hot, try telling me that this past Saturday when I had to get out well before sunrise to get my long run done. The reality is, when summer temperatures start to rise, my motivation to get out the door falls dramatically, especially when it is already 85 degrees at 5:30 in the morning.

But how does one manage to do fall marathon training, or for that matter any outdoor exercise, once the temps start moving up the thermostat.

Most running experts state the ideal temperature for long distance running is between 50-55 degrees Fahrenheit. However, here in Texas, that is only a small portion of our year. Once the temps start edging above these levels, performance levels start to decline. It has been shown for every 5 degrees above this range there is a 2% degradation in performance and this does not account for any other environmental factors such as humidity and ozone levels.

Below are some tips to take into consideration when exercising outdoors once the temps begin to climb.

  • Get out early before sunrise, if possible There are many sources of heat when one exercises outside. The most obvious being air temperature, but one cannot ignore the effects from the sun’s radiant heat, as well as the heat reflecting off the road surface. Add a little humidity and little to no air movement to the mix and you have the perfect storm for some very big issues. Heat cramps and other potentially dangerous heat-related illnesses, such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke are conditions to be noted.

  • Slow down Whether walking, running or cycling you will need to slow your pace and/or speed. If you have a race scheduled during warm temps understand that this is not the time to strive for a personal best. Your performance will be affected by the higher temperatures.

  • Run, walk, or cycle on a shaded route Direct heat can raise your body temperature by as much as 8-9 degrees higher than the ambient temperature, therefore, having a shaded route will help offset the effects of the direct heat. I also run routes where I have access to early morning sprinklers. This is a great way to keep cool.

  • Stay hydrated Wear a fuel belt or carry water with you. If you plan on being out for a long period of time consider carrying a sports drink with you.

  • Wear the proper attire Choose light colored clothing that wicks away sweat from the skin.

  • Wear a visor or a hat that allows for air flow. This will help keep intense heat off your head.

  • Wear your sunglasses Don’t forget to bring sunglasses with you. Eye strain can lead to tensing of the upper body therefore causing you to be less efficient in your running or walking.

  • Carry ice with you You can place the ice in a rag and wrap it around you neck. Carry it under your hat until you are ready to use it.

  • Listen to your body If you feel nauseated, dizzy, feeling foggy headed, or if you quit sweating this is a time to stop, sit down, drink water and seek help. This is why it is very important to run with a partner or leave a map with your family. And do not forget to wear your RoadID or carry some form of ID on your person as well as your cell phone.

    According to information I received at the Road Runners Club of America Coaching Certification Class it takes the average runner 10 hours of running in the heat to acclimate to the heat, but this does NOT mean you will not need to take the necessary precautions mentioned above to stay safe. If all else fails, feel free to take your workouts indoors until the temperatures begin to drop. One should always err on the side of caution over risking one’s health.

    Have you had to deal with the summer temperatures and if so what measures do you take to prevent problems? Have you been able to keep exercising outdoors this summer?

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    I live in North Florida where it stays extremely hot and humid from June through October. I've pretty much given up on outside exercise during that time, except for water aerobics. DVDs work best for me. I think I was close to a heat stroke one time in my neighborhood in the morning, had to sit down on the side of the road for a bit, so I won't do that anymore. Report
    Thanks, Nancy, for the article! I'm in S'East TX. & the heat/humidity are bad here too! I was out by 6 something this morning to walk/jog for 2 miles & it was already hot, but I made it! Report
    Thanks for all the good info...I'm just starting out in walking 5Ks and hope to be doing more. Will definitely make use of these great tips.

    Have a great day! Report
    I've got a neck wrap that is filled with the super absorbant beads that when soaked for a time before wearing becomes a wonderful neck chiller....has really been a life saver! Report
    I live in Germany where the summer seems to have forgotten us this year! It could still get hot, but early mornings and late evenings are generally fine for walking or running. I spend a couple of months in Florida each year, tho - and follow all the tips above except for the ice. Might give that a try when I'm there in August. Report
    I am not a runner, but I do walk outdoors a lot. No matter how hot (or cold) it gets I still go for my walks. On hot days I do take something to drink with me and in the summer I usually wear a hat and/or sunglasses. This year heat has not been a problem, as someone from NH already mentioned. Here in Vermont most of our days have been below normal temperature and we have had very few sunny days. We have had LOTS of rainy days. A lot of days it has been overcast and gloomy all day, but dry for much of the day. I go walking even in the rain, but I take an umbrella with me. If I am walking on my lunch break and it is raining I also wear a pair of rain pants and a rain jacket to protect my clothes from windblown rain or splashes from cars going by. I didn't used to have raingear in my car and I sat at my desk in wet clothes for the afternoon more than once. Report
    I live in Southern Ontario Canada and believe it or not we also have this issue - it can get extremely hot and humid ( which is my biggest issue) and although I am not a runner this kind of weather takes all the energy right out of me. It makes me feel like a ambition to do anything.

    And then in January we have the extreme opposite problems - extreme cold with windchills that are down right dangerous - frost bite and exposure are real concerns for anyone who is outside for more than 15 minutes.

    Its no wonder we're a tough its nothing for us to see a swing of 100 degrees from winter to summer - or more.

    And the only way to get around this is to pay attention to the weather man, thermometer and dress and prepare accordingly. Proper attire - from head to foot is paramount and in summer esp. bringing water along.

    I liked the ice 'pack' idea.....keeps you cool while carrying it and will aid in quenching you when required.

    good article even for those just taking a strole on days that are extreme one way or the other.

    and we also need to be conscious of our pets that we sometimes take along for the run/walk/stroll/,,th
    ey can suffer too. Report
    I live in Hawaii so this is a daily challenge. I have been running and working out during the day for years now and I'm still not used to it! Report
    Thanks for the post and information. I've been dealing with this problem by getting up with the roosters (even though I live in the city) and hitting the pavement while everyone else is asleep. But, I also like the challenge of running in the heat and forcing myself to get used to it. I drink a lot more water and try to avoid extended periods in the sun during my run. Report
    I live in the south-central part of Alabama, and it gets plenty 'o hot here too. And the humidity! Gah! I am not a runner, but I walk about 3 miles a day (about 45 minutes). I make sure to wear light colors, sunscreen, and I drink at least 2 glasses of water within 1 hour of starting my walk, with another one waiting in the freezer for when I get home. I find if I get my walk in by myself before noon the heat is not factor (the temp usually peaks around 3 pm). Evenings are rougher - more humid, less breeze, higher temps, and 40 pounds of kid & stroller to push. Then my 3 miles takes about an hour (if I don't call it at 2 miles because the 3 year old isn't drinking his water - he's vulnerable to heat stress riding in the stroller too). Report
    I live in Miami, Florida and it get very hot, so I walk/run at sunrise .Thank you for article. I especially like the ice tip.
    I have been riding my bike in the heat and humidity of TN. this summer. I did not prepare well enough for a 42 mile ride on June 27th and ended up with heat exhaustion. I dropped from the event at 32 miles. I will take ice and plenty of water next time and stay away from theGatorade as it made me more sick. Report
    I've been struggling with my running this summer, even though I've done way more than 10 hours. I use a combination of your suggestions: I head out as early as possible, stay in the shade, slow down and wear a hat with a mesh top. But it's still tough about half the time. Report
    I live in Arizona and I went for a walk just before sunset last night. I felt icky from the heat (110). I went this morning at 7 am and it felt much better. I did not get sick today. Report
    Glad i am not the only one up before sunrise to beat the high temps. It is usually 90 degrees by 5am where I live. No wonder my motivation to train for this fall's cross country team is severely lacking. Report
    nancy, nice article, for me the road heat is the killer, it makes my feet feel like they are on fire. bobby Report
    Yes, I have been running in the HEAT!! I am in beautiful East Texas...and try to get out by 6:30 am to run. I am just a beginner and have completed 2 5k's (1 running and 1 walking). I appreciate these tips, because I will be running a 5K again in September in Corpus Christi, Tx. I will be sure and incorporate some of these tips in the near future, because I don't plan to quit with 5k's. My ultimate goal is to run a marathon by my 60th birthday (18 months away). Report
    Like Nancy I live in Texas and am embarking on another fall marathon training. Last year was horrendous, my first summer running in TX after running in MA for the prior 6yrs, I almost thought I had somehow lost the ability to run...but I kept going. This year (2nd summer) is much better, still hot, but my ability to deal with the temperatures has improved. I do many of the same things...hydrate very well the 24-36hrs prior to a long training run day, drink a quality electrolyte drink while driving to meet my running buddies, carry/drink a quality electrolyte drink while I run, and wear as light/little clothing as possible. I have been meaning to find a visor as even a coolmax cap is too hot, and I like the ice idea...will have to try that :) Report
    The only exercise I do outdoors is walking. As a general rule of thumb, I don't walk if it's above 75°F. I also factor in the humidity in and how comfortable I feel being outside in general. I also slow my pace down when it's warmer. I try to do my walks in the morning, or in the evening after dinner time, but well before dark. Report
    I live in New Hampshire so we haven't had the problem with heat yet, just plenty of rain. I usually wait a hour or two after i'm awake to go for a power walk or a light job. Its usually 60 degrees when i start and in the low 70's by the time i am done. On those few days that its going to be in the 90's i go for my walks as early as possible. Report
    I don't run, but I walk and thankfully it has been a bit of a cool summer here so far. I am in the Appalachian mountains and it cools off nicely towards evening here. I am at work by 6:00 am, so morning is out of question; but if it is too hot, I wait for the cool down at 7:30 or 8:00 pm. So far this summer, I've been fortunate. I have changed my walk time or schedule due to the heat, but have not missed any walks. This is a good blog and timely as I was just thinking yesterday that my last walk had suffered because of the heat. Report
    Nancy - 50 to 55 may be the ideal temp in Texas, but here, anything over 10C and I start to struggle. Love those -35 runs, but you gotta dress properly!

    Stay safe. Report
    I always wear appropriate clothes and carry plenty of water. (I usually keep a case of water bottles in the trunk of my car.) Sometimes I run on a treadmill (with a fan!) instead of outside. A shower right afterwards is great. My husband made me a smoothie when I got home from running today (milk, orange juice, and frozen fruit). It was perfect! Report
    As you can tell my name it is warm where I live too so thanks for the advice. Report
    I agree with you on all your points, Nancy. I live in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, but it can get pretty hot up here. I went to Woodbadge training one weekend for Cub leader training. I thought I had been doing everything correctly - drinking all the water I should, trying to stay cool in the heat, but I still ended up in the hospital. I was sick for 3 days afterwards!
    This is a great article and everyone should read and follow it! Report
    I lived in southern Arizona for 24 years. There, even 5am is too late for 'cool' much of the year.
    I just learned to acclimate every spring (read "early March") so that by the time the REAL heat kicked in, I could cope. I lived 2.5 miles from my work and walked both ways--7am and 3pm. With a hat and water, it was doable IF I started when the weather warmed. Otherwise, bus it home. I was lucky, too, because I had to rely on 'swamp cooling' rather than air conditioning (impoverished grad student). That meant my body didn't get that extreme insult of going from 100+ to 70- in one fell swoop. I've always found sudden changes worse than living at either extreme. Report
    This is way I'm up and out in the 5 o'clock hour. I can not take the heat it's to overwhelming for me. Plus it make my workout more difficult to complete. When I did 1/2 marathon by the 11th mile I was ready to quit, because of the heat, but I pushed on and finished. Report
    Tempe, AZ here... As CARPROTH mentioned, it's over 100 for three or more months in the Phoenix-Metro area. I often carry an umbrella if I'm walking. I've switched from biking in the afternoon to early morning. I also am in the pool as much as I can be. Sunscreen is a must - skin cancer runs in my fair skinned family.

    Summer or winter, I have my water bottle. Report
    We always go out early with sunblock and tons of water. One can never be too careful. Report
    Go out early in the morning, sunscreen, water, shades, and a wet towel( it helps too keep me cool) of course the sun helps me also it's good source of heat for my old stiff bone and sore joints. Report
    There are some good suggestions here. Recently I found a helpful product, it is a neckerchief with a jell pack sewn in. You put the scarf in the fridge to chill then when you go out you tie it around your neck with the jell pack on the back of your neck. It really helps keep you cool. I live in Florida where the heat and humidity can sabotage your exercise plans. Report
    Thanks for the article. I live and cycle in Houston. We have also learned another thing to not forget when out SUNSCREEN. One of fellow cyclists makes his living treating sun cancer. Never thought I needed to worry since I have olive skin but I had a melanoma cut off my face last November. Report
    Thank you for this exceptional article. I especially like the ice tip. I need to be more prepared when I run.

    On days here in Delaware when there are heat warnings, I workout inside to Leslie Sansone DVD's and others.

    I remember my daughter’s summer soccer tourneys where there was quite a bit of running (I do not think people realize the magnitude of the energy of this sport). One tourney in particular where she collapsed on the field from heat exhaustion. She was so talented the coach never would sub her. This is the primary reason why I went along as chaperone when she played in Europe. I did not trust him at all with her health.
    Ha! The ONLY time I can work-out in the great outdoors IS in the summer time ... otherwise the pool is too cold! ;-) Even then, I go early or late or use the indoor pool because I have a healthy respect of the burning powers of the sun! Report
    I walk in the heat but can only walk for so long. Usually what I do is I have a planned place I'm going and its usually a 10 to 15 min. walk from where I'm starting. I'll walk there and go in the air conditioning and stay for a few min. shopping or having lunch and then I walk home for 10 or 15 min. That way I get in 1/2 hour when its really hot and then I may walk farther if its early in the morning or later in the day. Report
    It's actually been pretty cool in NJ (at least up to now). Also, I now belong to a health club, so I can always work out indoors. Last summer, I got into the habit of walking at night. I did it last week and forgot how much I really enjoy it. I am talking about a well-lit walking track where there are usually other walkers (at least until 11:00). I would not jeopardize safety (in terms of crime, traffic, or not being able to see) to do this. Report
    I read a lot of these responses. Good job, people!

    Summer temps are bad in Athens, GA because it's so humid all the time on top of it being 95F. I even have to walk my poor dog at 6:00am or 8:30pm because she overheats.

    I do my cardio indoors now, not outdoors, though it is still very hot. I do Vinyasa Power Yoga for 90 min. where they turn on the heat. It's regulated and monitored, though, so it's safe. Plus, 90 minutes burns about 700 calories, not to mention improves flexibility and rids the body of toxins! Report
    I lived in Washington State for 11 years and I never had to worry about heat.. even in the summer time the hottest it would get would be about 80.
    but since I've lived in CA. now I do have to be careful with the sun not only for health reasons but comfortablility as well. the sun and I just dont get along all the time. I go out and do my running early morning right after I drop husband off to work that works always for me. Report
    LOVE the early morning sprinkler route and ice ideas!! Thanks!! It can get pretty HOT down here in Georgia, too!! I've just started up my walk to a walk and a jog so this is very helpful!! :) Have a GR8 weekend!! Report
    Great blog! I'd also add - sunscreen :) The additional sweating from working/playing outdoors may require more frequent application. Report
    While i can walk for hours in 85-90F heat, running is Out of the question. I can still find motivation to play tennis in heat, but ONLY in shade and wt my husband. I live in a temp climate and actually 85-90F is considered "heat wave". So often even at 80F it's a bit "too hot". I haven't run outdoors since end-of-Apr when it was comfy around 60-70F at most. Report
    Great advice. I live in Mississippi and anything above 70 is too hot for me so I either choose to run in the early morning before sunrise or just stay indoors and exercise to dvd's. I've experienced heat exhaustion and it is not fun. It doesn't matter how old you are or who you are it can happen quickly. Serious stuff. Thanks for posting for there may be those out there who are going gung ho without any regards to safety. Report
    I'm in Scottsdale, AZ and during the summer we average 100 days of 100 degrees or better - you're definitely preachin' to the choir. We don't go on daylight time and mornings are the only feasible time to get out there (we hike a lot on the trails in our mountain preserves). I check the SPF on every product I use on my body (lotion, shampoo, I swear even toothpaste), my water bottle is with me continually, and we hit the trails by 5:30. Not too many mosquitoes here in the desert, but we get alot of views of lizards doing push-up on flat rocks, quail and jackrabbit families scurrying around for breakfast, and hawks hang-gliding off mountain ledges. If I can't make it out early, my gym has an air-conditioned indoor track , but the fresh air and scenery keep bringing me back outside. Report
    I live in Texas and the heat this year is already well into the hundreds!

    I love taking brisk walks outside, but the afternoon temps keep me away from my favorite walking paths during my "peak times" (the times my schedule allows for--usually around 4 pm). I am trying to get out early in the morning while the temps are still relatively cool, but it takes a great deal of effort on my part. I went walking at 9 am this morning, and while the air temp was moderate, the sun was already beaming down. If it wasn't for the consistent breeze, I may not have finished the walk!
    I also live in Texas, I don't run but I do walk. I get up at 5:15 and get out the door by 5:30, there are plenty of others out walking in the park at the hour, the smart ones! I also walk late in the evening, say 7:00pm, there are plenty of trees so I don't get much direct sun at either time. I also have a water bottle that fits in a belt that I can carry. Report
    Thanks for the article! I have the same issue where I live (Mississippi) and I've been either waking up really early or running on the treadmill instead. Evenings are another alternative is waking up at 5 isn't feasible (but then there are the mosquitoes!). Report