Ahh summer. Sunshine, stargazing, surfers, summer romances, beach life, barbeques, bonfires, fresh fruit, ice cream, homemade popsicles, music festivals, and road trips. Is there a better time of year?
If you haven’t already, it’s time to take your workouts outdoors. Exercising outdoors is a superb opportunity to enjoy the immense pleasures of summer. No need to stare at the same four walls any longer. You are not a cooped up hamster. It’s time to spread your wings, inhale some fresh air and enjoy exercise (and life) as it was meant to be – al fresco. Exercising indoors is good, but exercising out of doors, as nature intended, is better. Exercising outside is more testing and natural than working out in a gym, you’ll get a healthy dose of vitamin D, boost your levels of serotonin, and most importantly it’s soothing for the soul.
Alas, everything has a downside. As wonderful as it is, exercising in the sun and heat of summer places extra stress on your body. The workout itself and the high temperatures act to increase your core body temperature. Therefore, you must take extra precautions when you exercise in hot weather. Though summer can get hot and humid, it also equals longer days, which means you can workout early or late to avoid the heat of day.
So before you rush outside, optimize your hot-weather workouts and take the following precautions to exercise smart and safe in the heat of the sun.
To keep as cool as possible wear workout gear that’s lightweight, breathable, loose, and to reflect the heat, light in color. Ideally choose clothing with vents or mesh. Go for workout clothes made from a synthetic material with high “wicking” properties. Cotton, while cool and cheap, once wet keeps you wet, can lead to chafing, becomes heavy and is just generally uncomfortable. In contrast, wicking materials direct sweat away from your skin so cooling evaporation can occur, keeping you cooler and drier. Some summer workout gear may also have sunscreen-treated fabrics. As the weather gets hotter, ditch the cotton in favor of more technical wicking materials – that includes your running socks.
During hot weather it’s important that you keep your body hydrated. Aim to drink water before, during and after your workout. An easy way to check you’re hydrating effectively is to look at the color of your urine. If your urine is light yellow or colorless, it’s likely that you’re staying well hydrated. However, if your urine is dark yellow or amber, you’re likely to be dehydrated. When exercising outdoors, keep a water bottle close to hand to rehydrate. If you get very hot, you can also use it to splash some water on your body to help you cool down.
EASY DOES IT
Exercising outdoors can be a bit of a shock to the system, so give yourself time. It can take up to 14 days for your body to adjust to temperature changes, which include your body adapting to reduce heart rate and core body temperature, and increasing your sweat rate. Therefore, avoid asking too much of your body too soon. When making the transition from indoor to outdoor workouts, start off with relatively short bouts of exercise and go easier on the intensity – no setting personal bests.
THE RIGHT TIME OF DAY
Avoid training at midday when it is warmest, instead try to early or late in the day. The sun’s intensity is at it strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Early morning tends to be the coolest time of the day to exercise outdoors, as the roads have not yet heated up from the sun. If you can’t avoid exercising in the middle of the day, look for a shady workout location or running route.
FIND THE SHADE
If you can, exercise outdoors but in shaded areas. Seek the shade of tall buildings or, better still, under overhanging trees. Parks, trails and other tree-lined routes can help you stay cooler than exercising in direct sunlight. Finding a patch of green beats exercising in urban areas, as asphalt and concrete retain heat.
Absolutely no one is a fan humidity. And there’s a good reason for that. When it’s hot and humid, it gets super difficult for the body to cool itself. Sweating doesn’t cool you down per se. It’s the evaporation of sweat that cools the body. If there’s high humidity sweat doesn’t easily evaporate from your skin, as the air is already is full of moisture. That means your body is unable to cool itself as effectively, pushing your body temperature higher. And you’re still sweaty. In other words, warm, humid weather can affect you as badly, or worse, than hot, dry conditions.
As much as you’ve missed the sun, and as important as it is in creating vitamin D, too much sun is a danger to your skin. Too much sun exposure can leave your skin sore, burnt and even trigger skin cancer. Use a high SPF sunscreen, preferably one that is waterproof. It’s also worth looking for formulations for athletes, so the sunscreen won’t run into your eyes.
SHIELD YOUR EYES
Wear sunglasses or a sun visor to protect your eyes. Ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun can cause all sorts of eye problems, including cataracts, so be sure to buy quality sunglasses. Look for glasses with UVA and UVB protection. To be effective, your sunglasses should block light from both the top and sides – so ideally wraparound sunglasses.
A hat is always a good idea. But if you’re bald, have thinning hair or are sporting a super short hairstyle, a hat is a definite must. Hair helps protect your head from the sun, which means that if your scalp is exposed it’s at the same risk of sun damage as the rest of your skin. If you can see your scalp through your hair wear a hat or at the absolute minimum use a sunscreen formulated to protect the hair and scalp.
Warmer weather means that plants are pollinating and that can cause problems for allergy sufferers. When choosing your workout location or running, hiking or bike route, steer clear of areas with high pollen levels. Also, avoid outdoor exercise when pollen counts are highest (between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m. and early evening) and exercising on days when pollen counts are particularly bad (check your local air quality forecast). After your outdoor workout be sure to shower well, and consider nasal irrigation to help reduce allergy symptoms. Don’t be afraid to skip a workout or two if your symptoms are especially bad.
Pollution levels often rise when the air is warm. Layers of pollution hang heavy in the air over towns and cities in the summer months and bring with it health risks, especially of the respiratory kind. If possible, take your workouts out and away from the city or, at the very least, from highly trafficked streets. Check your local weather report for air quality forecasts (e.g. Air Quality Index). Take your workout indoors when ozone or carbon-monoxide levels exceed 100.
CHECK YOUR MEDS & SUPPLEMETS
Some mediations, both prescription and over-the-counter, and even supplements, can intensify the effects of the heat and the sun. For example, diuretics can lead to dehydration, and may be found in some sports or fat-burning supplements. Other medications that can leave you more vulnerable to the heat and sun include antihistamines, decongestants, antihypertensives, and antidepressants (including the herb Saint John’s Wort). Check the drug-package inserts of any medications or supplements you may be taking and speak to your physician or pharmacist.
KNOW THE SYMPTOMS
Know, and be on the lookout, for the symptoms of heat-related illnesses. Stop your workout immediately if you notice any of the symptoms or generally feel unwell. If weather conditions intensify as you’re exercising outdoors, call it a day and head indoors.