According to a study funded by the Shanghai University of Sport, the results of which were published in July of 2016 in the Journal of Sport and Health Science, weather—and heat especially—has a huge impact on our fitness habits.
In fact, out of the 502 subjects surveyed, the majority (51.8 percent) reported that they will actually delay their exercise routines in the summer months, citing heat as “the predominant adverse condition.”
In fairness, getting too overheated by exercising when the temperature rises is a real concern, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicating the exposure to extreme heat can lead to heat stroke, a condition that can ultimately result in death. This is especially true for certain segments of the population, such as older individuals or those with chronic health conditions.
Respiratory issues are an issue with regard to the heat as well according to the CDC, partially due to “the build-up of harmful air pollutants” in the warmer air.
Heat, humidity, and exercise safety
The University of Colorado Hospital adds that there are some days when it is just too hot to exercise outdoors safely. However, it isn’t so much the air’s temperature that is the concern, but the temperature combined with humidity because this inhibits the sweat evaporation process, and it is the evaporation of the sweat versus the sweating itself that helps cool the body properly.
For instance, if the air temperature is 90 degrees Fahrenheit but the relative humidity is less than 25 percent, the university suggests exercising cautiously because the physical activity is more fatiguing than normal. Yet, if the temp is 90 and the relative humidity is 70 percent or higher, working out outdoors is dangerous and “sunstroke, heat cramps or heat exhaustion [is] likely.”
So, how do you stay active on warm summer days, when it isn’t so warm and humid that you’re more susceptible to potentially overheating? One option is to engage in activities that can keep your body cooler, thus safer.
Swimming is one of them and the great thing about exercising in a pool, pond, or other body of water is that, it doesn’t matter how hot it is outside, the water is cool and refreshing. This helps to offset air temperatures that may put your body into the danger zone.
If you’re new to swimming, U.S. Masters Swimming states that it’s important to remember that “the speed and distance is not as important as the amount of time you swim.” Focus on starting with 30 second swims, alternating with 30 second rest intervals. Increase your times slowly while working toward the American Heart Association’s recommendation of engaging in 30 to 60 minutes of exercise 3-4 days a week.
Additionally, monitor your heart rate during your swimming sessions to increase the likelihood that your swimming routine is safe for your current physical condition. Again, don’t worry too much about trying to swim as fast as you can because, according to U.S. Masters, “you can’t swim too slowly.”
Work out indoors
A second option is to take your workout indoors. This enables you to better control the temperature of your external environment while hitting your fitness goals.
If you have a home gym, this is a great time to use it. And if you prefer to exercise at a local gym or recreational center but aren’t sure which one to join, Muscle & Fitness suggests that you find one that offers seven important factors:
- A convenient location
- A comfortable and clean workout environment
- Qualified staff
- Exercise equipment you like to use
- Your desired services and amenities
- Reasonable membership and group class fees
- Pleasant and welcoming members
Many fitness facilities offer free fitness sessions for individuals interested in joining. This enables you to check out these factors before signing up for a membership.
If you do work out outdoors
If you’re an avid outdoors person or don’t mind doing your exercise outside in warmer summer temperatures, it’s important to follow certain practices to make those workouts safer. This helps you avoid heat-related issues while still advancing your fitness and health.
ACTIVE, one of the largest online directories of sports and recreational activities and facilities, indicates that working out safely on hot days involves staying hydrated, wearing sunscreen, and exercising in loose, light-colored clothing. Also, avoid working out during the hottest times of the day—from 10 AM to 3 PM—and stay out of direct sunlight if at all possible.
Most importantly, listen to your body. If you experience dizziness, faintness, or feel nauseous, stop your workout immediately. Move someplace cooler to start to bring your body temperature back down and, if it gets too bad, seek medical attention.
While fitness is important, your health and wellness are even more so.