Keep heart health in mind on hot summer days

Exercising outdoors during the summer can be hard on the heart but there are things you can do to make it less stressful.

Gardening or just lounging on the deck on hot and humid summer days can be tough to get through but when you like to spend time outdoors exercising or playing sports, it can be especially rough on your body. University of Alabama at Birmingham cardiologist Alan S. Gertler, M.D., has some stay-cool, heart-healthy tips to help you avoid heat-related illnesses and continue to do the outdoor physical activities you love.

heat_heart_storyWhat’s happening to your body

“Physiologically, the heat of summer increases stress on the heart, particularly during exercise. Exercise and the air temperature increase core body temperature, and high humidity further complicates the situation because sweat doesn't easily evaporate from your skin. Your body responds by diverting more blood to the skin to cool itself, which results in less blood flow to the muscles and consequently an increase in heart rate.

Know the signs — and what to do

“If you experience symptoms of heat-related illness while outdoors, stop what you’re doing and get out of the heat,” Gertler says. “Drink plenty of fluids, either water or a sports drink, and remove extra clothing and wet down your body with cool water, either in the shower or with a cloth. If symptoms don't improve after 30 minutes—or if you exhibit heat stroke symptoms—seek medical attention immediately.”

Warning signs of a heat-related illness can include:

  • muscle cramps
  • nausea and vomiting
  • weakness
  • headache
  • dizziness
  • confusion
  • irritability
  • body temperature above 104 degrees, a sign of heat stroke
  • cold, clammy skin, also sign of a heat stroke

Summer exercise secrets
Scorching days don’t mean you can’t enjoy the great outdoors, and if basic precautions are followed most heat-related illnesses can be prevented, Gertler says. There are three secrets to safely exercising during summer’s sweltering heat and oppressive humidity.

  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate: drink 8 to 12 ounces of water 30 minutes prior to exercise, plus six to ten ounces for every 30 minutes of exercise. Sports drinks are recommended for exercise sessions exceeding an hour.
  • Timing is everything: it is best to exercise in the early morning or evening hours, when the temperatures are cooler and the sun is not as strong.
  • Dress appropriately: avoid dark colors, and wear loose-fitting cotton T-shirts, shorts, and a brimmed hat. Always wear sunscreen.

Be heart smart
“Monitor your heart rate while you exercise, and stay within the range prescribed by your doctor,” Gertler adds. “If you have an underlying heart problem, talk to your doctor before exercising in the heat.”