August is here and school will soon be starting in many parts of the country. This month also signals the start of sports training programs. These school-related sport activities place a young adult or child at a high risk for heat-related illnesses. Of course, all of us are at a risk for a heat-related illness if we overdo it on a hot and humid day.
Heat-related illnesses include:
• Heat cramps often occur in muscles during strenuous activity due to loss of fluids and salt, resulting in intense pain and persistent muscle contractions that continue during and after exercise. When they occur, stop the strenuous activity, eat salty food, consume a sports drink and stretch the affected muscle.
• Heat exhaustion is moderately serious, usually resulting from fluid or salt loss in the heat. Dizziness or fainting, a headache or nausea are the usual signs. Usually one needs to move to a cool, shaded place, with feet elevated, and be given fluids. If someone’s condition does not improve or worsens, then take that person to the nearest emergency room.
• Heat stroke (sunstroke) which occurs when the body fails to regulate its own temperature and body temperature continues to rise above 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius) or higher. Symptoms and signs include headache, altered consciousness, seizures, confusion, combative behavior, nausea, vomiting, weakness, rapid heart rate, decreased blood pressure and rapid breathing. If waiting for medical assistance, if available, try to cool the body down with ice or cold water. Heat stroke is a medical emergency. Even with immediate treatment, it can be life-threatening or cause serious long-term problems.
The following strategies will help you protect yourself from the onset of heat illness:
1. Hydration. Fluid replenishment before, during and after exercise is essential to avoid progressive dehydration that can lead to heat exhaustion, or worse, heat stroke. Always strive to drink the equivalent of a glass of water (6 to 8 ounces) or an energy drink every 20 minutes during exercise.
2. Exercise Intensity. You should always reduce the intensity of your workout when exposed to higher temperature. Also, gradually increase the intensity of your workout rather than starting at full tilt, and if you begin to feel nauseous, fatigue or lightheadedness then stop your workout and rest.
3. Timing your workout can be helpful in reducing your exposure on a hot and humid day. If possible, exercise during the cooler portions of the day – early morning or late evening.