Today is the summer solstice, the official beginning of summer and it looks like it’s going to be a hot one here in Knoxville. And not just hot, but humid. While this can make our everyday lives a bit hot and sweaty, it can really affect outdoor activities, particularly outdoor exercise. Heat related illnesses are more common than you might expect. To better enjoy your summer, knowing what to do to avoid heat issues, and how to treat them if they are coming on, can save you a lot of grief. As I frequently row in the afternoons, and participate in regattas throughout the summer, I am very aware of the heat as something not to be ignored! So, here’s what you need to know:
It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity. Once it gets hot, the humidity plays a critical role in how our bodies cool themselves. At the usual summer temperatures, our bodies are cooled almost exclusively by evaporative heat loss. That is, as we sweat and the sweat evaporates, our bodies are cooled. However when the humidity is high, evaporation does not take place effectively and our bodies can not cool themselves as well. Since East Tennessee tends to be very humid in the summer, we all must be aware that our bodies need some help in staying cool.
It’ll never happen to me! Even if we are otherwise quite healthy, there are some factors that place us at higher risk for having problems in the heat. Patients recovering from surgery should stay out of the heat whenever possible. The older we get, the greater our risk can be. Also if we are overweight, we will have more difficulty. Medical conditions can place us at increased risk, specifically high blood pressure and heart disease. Also medications such as diuretics, beta blockers and antihistamines increase the danger. Perhaps the greatest threat comes from alcohol consumption. This dehydrates us and interferes with the bodies’ ability to regulate temperature.
An ounce of prevention. The best way to beat the heat is to be aware of the problem and take preventative measures.
- Limit alcohol consumption not only while you are outside in the heat, but also the night before.
- And stay well hydrated. You should continuously be drinking water or mild salty beverages like sports drinks (GatorAde, PowerAde, etc.) You should not take salt tablets unless prescribed by your doctor.
- Wear lightweight, light-colored clothes that breathe well.
- Know your limits.
If you feel the heat. If you begin to feel the effects of heat exhaustion, you may experience fatigue, weakness, headaches, dizziness, nausea, irritability, and muscle cramps. Of, you may just not feel well, as if you are coming down with the flu. If this happens, get out of the sun, lie down, and drink cool liquids. You may want to put cold wet towels on your neck or other areas of body. If you do not begin to feel better, seek medical attention — even if this means calling a rescue squad.
But best of all, try to avoid this. Be smart about what you do, and when you are doing it. Always stay hydrated, even if you are playing in the sun. And, know your limits so that you can stop before you get to them.
Have a great summer!