Working Out in the Summer Heat: 11 Tips to Keep You Safe

It’s summertime. The living might be easy but working out is hard when the temperature soars and the humidity is so high you feel like you need a shower as soon as you step outside.

Does that mean you need to stop working out?

The short answer is no, but there’s more to it than that. If you want to work out when it’s hot outside – and especially if you don’t have air conditioning – you should take precautions to ensure that your body has what it needs to withstand the heat.

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Being in good shape doesn’t mean that you can work out in the heat without taking precautions. One study found that heat illness was the third leading cause of death among high school athletes in the United States. Complicating factors include:

  • Obesity

  • Sleep deprivation

  • Medications (especially antidepressants and diuretics)

  • Upper respiratory disease

  • Gastrointestinal disease

The key is to understand the risks and protect yourself. Here are 11 tips to help you work out safely when it’s hot.

#1: Choose the Right Workout Gear

On a hot day, it’s important to choose the right clothes to work out in. The consensus is that choosing moisture-wicking workout gear in hot weather is a must.

We found one study from 2014 that showed that wearing clothes that wick moisture away from the body was effective at lowering athletes’ core temperature on hot days. That’s because humidity can limit the evaporation of sweat. Specialized clothing speeds the evaporation process and keeps excess moisture off your skin.

#2: Wear Sunscreen

You might be tempted to skip the sunscreen when you’re exercising outside but it’s a mistake to do so. While sunscreen by itself won’t keep you cooler, it does do one very important job. It prevents sunburn.

Sunburns make it difficult for your body to regulate heat and maintain a normal core temperature. When you’re working out on a hot day, even a minor increase in your core temperature can have a negative impact on your health.

#3: Acclimate to the Heat

One of the biggest risks of working out in the summer is that your body goes from a cool temperature to a hot one too quickly. That increases the risk of heat sickness. For example, if you go from an air-conditioned home and run outside, your body won’t have time to get accustomed to the heat.

Athletic associations have issued guidelines to minimize the risk of heat illness in student athletes. Here are some of the things they recommend for heat acclimatization:

  • During the first five days of heat acclimatization, workouts should not exceed one hour.

  • In sports that require protective equipment, minimal equipment may be worn during the acclimatization period.

  • After the initial period, two-workout days are allowed, but only with a three hour break between workouts.

You can translate this to your own workouts by starting slowly and keeping your workouts brief as your body gets accustomed to the heat. Then, you can increase their length and intensity if you wish.

#4: Stay Hydrated

Hydration is always important and even more so when it’s hot outside. Even when you’re not working out, your body is losing water through perspiration. When you exercise, your body perspires heavily to cool down – and as it does, you lose water and hydration.

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In the hot weather, make sure to drink water all day – even when you’re not working out. Many runners carry hydration packs with them. You may also want to weigh yourself before and after an intense workout and drink enough water to make up for the weight you lose. The rule of thumb is to drink 1.5 pounds of water for every pound of weight you lose. That translates to three cups.

Keep in mind you don’t need to drink that all at once. However, the sooner you do, the sooner your hydration will return to normal.

#5: Time Your Workouts

If you exercise outside, it’s important to get your workout in when the summer heat isn’t at its peak. Between the hours of 10 AM and 5PM, the sun will be high in the sky and you’ll be more affected by the heat than you would be at other times.

When it’s hot out, the best times to exercise are in the early morning or early evening. At those times, the temperature is slightly cooler, and the sun is lower in the sky. That means you’ll be exposed to less heat and direct sunlight.

#6: Take a Cool Shower

One way to minimize the increase in your body temperature during a workout is to lower your skin temperature before you begin to exercise. You can do that by taking a cool shower before you head out for your workout.

A study found that people who took cold showers prior to a workout experienced a reduction in their skin temperature even after 30 minutes of exercise. The best results came when participants took a 9-minute shower, but even taking a 3-minute or 6-minute shower offered some benefits.

#7: Split Up Your Workouts

In the heat and humidity, it may simply be too much for your body to handle a long, intense workout. There’s plenty of evidence to show that doing several short workouts can be just as effective as one long workout.

Another option is to do interval training, which requires several minutes of intense activity followed by a cool-down period. This type of training gives your body a chance to cool down and results in a lower overall increase in your body temperature. The cool-down periods also provide an opportunity for hydration.

#8: Decrease the Intensity of Your Workouts

Another option you may want to consider is to decrease the intensity of your workouts in general. Of course, it’s important to exercise. But you don’t need to push yourself to your limits when the temperature’s over 90 degrees.

Instead, consider going for a jog instead of a run. Alternatively, you should consider a workout that’s safe to do in the heat. For example, swimming is a terrific summertime workout. It provides cardio and muscle toning benefits, it’s low impact, and the cool water will keep your body temperature from rising too quickly even when you’re swimming quickly or for a prolonged period.

#9: Join a Gym

While a gym membership might seem like an unnecessary expense when you’re accustomed to exercising outside, it’s important to acknowledge the affect that high temperatures can have on your body and health.

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That makes summer the perfect time to treat yourself to a membership at an air-conditioned gym. In the air conditioning, you won’t need to limit the length or intensity of your workouts. Where you might only be able to run a few miles outdoors without overheating, you can easily do a long run on a treadmill. The same is true of biking, rowing, and any other intense workout you can do at a gym.

#10: Seek Out Cooler Locations for Your Workout

What if a gym membership isn’t in the budget? If that’s the case, then you can seek out locations where your heat exposure is less intense, and your body is protected from the sun.

For example, you might try:

  • Running or biking on a shaded trail where it’s a little cooler than it would be in direct sunlight.

  • Running, biking, or rollerblading at the beach where you’ll have a cool breeze to provide some relief.

  • Swimming in a pool or at the beach.

Any one of these options can help you get the exercise you need without putting yourself at risk of heat illness.

#11: Know the Warning Signs of Heat Illness

This last tip is really about awareness. You may choose to exercise outside in the heat. If you do, it’s essential to know the symptoms and warning signs of heat stroke and heat illness. The symptoms of heat exhaustion include:

  • Confusion

  • Dizziness

  • Fainting

  • Dark-colored urine (a symptom of dehydration)

  • Fatigue

  • Headache

  • Muscle or abdominal cramps

  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea

  • Rapid heartbeat

  • Pale, sweaty skin

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If it’s left untreated, heat exhaustion can turn into a life-threatening condition called heat stroke. The symptoms of heat stroke are:

  • Throbbing headache

  • Lack of sweating/no perspiration

  • Dizziness or light-headedness

  • Red, hot, and dry skin

  • Muscle weakness and cramps

  • Rapid, shallow breathing

  • Severe nausea and vomiting

  • Confusion, disorientation, or inability to walk straight

  • Seizures

  • Unconsciousness

It’s very important to pay attention to your body during a workout. If you experience any of these symptoms, even if they’re mild, you should stop your workout immediately and find a way to cool down and hydrate.

The bottom line is that it’s safe to work out in the summer heat if you take certain precautions. Your body can handle a workout in most cases, but it’s your job to pay attention to how you feel and heed the signs that your body sends you.