When the weather is fine the sun often beckons us outside to walk, run, cycle and embrace team sports of all descriptions. While it’s important to enjoy exercising outdoors, it’s also important to take some precautions when exercising in the heat.
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- what are the benefits of outdoor exercise?
- is it safe to exercise in the heat?
- signs of heatstroke, heat exhaustion and heat cramps
- who is more at risk from exercising in the heat?
- what precautions can you take to keep exercising safely in the heat?
- what alternative exercises can you do when it’s too hot to get active outside?
Be Healthy was created by VicHealth to provide helpful tips and advice on how you and your family can stay healthy. You can read more Be Healthy articles here.
What are the benefits of outdoor exercise?
There are many reasons exercising outdoors is exceptionally good for your health, both mental and physical:
- exercise is wonderful for the mind and body.
- ‘nature bathing’ benefits our health.
- active travel to and from work can give you a dose of the outdoors as part of your weekday routine.
These are just a few reasons to get outside and active…when it’s safe to do so!
Is it safe to exercise in the heat?
The information in this article isn’t designed to tell you to exercise outdoors or not, but to give you the information you need to decide how and when it is safe for you to do so.
Exercising in the heat puts additional stress on the body, which is not always a problem, but it is smart to be aware of how heat affects the body before exposing yourself to this stress.
“We want to maintain the core body temperature around 36 to 37 degrees,” says Dr Tracy Shang, Sports GP with Australian Sports Doctors.
When the air temperature increases, usually along with humidity, your core body temperature rises. Your body then sends blood flow to the skin to cool you down. That means the blood circulation available to your muscles as you exercise is reduced, which increases your heart rate.
Signs of heatstroke, heat exhaustion and heat cramps
If you are experiencing confusion, irritability, headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, fatigue or visual impairment, seek immediate medical attention. These are signs of heatstroke.
These symptoms are also common to heat exhaustion, which leads to heatstroke if left untreated. If you suspect you are experiencing either heatstroke or heat exhaustion, call an ambulance.
If your muscles are experiencing painful contractions, spasms, or the muscles are tense when you touch them, you may be experiencing heat cramps. Stop exercising and seek medical attention. Ensure you are well-hydrated with water, take a rest out of direct heat and ensure someone is monitoring you. You could also use cool towels to reduce your body temperature and ease symptoms.
Are some people more at risk from exercising in the heat?
“There’s a lot of factors to consider, including air temperature, wind conditions and humidity,” says Dr Shang. “But if the temperature is above 35 degrees, risk increases significantly.”
Dr Shang says that your base level of fitness is something to consider. If you’re new to exercising – or exercising outdoors, particularly – it isn’t a good idea to start in temperatures of 35 degrees or more.
“The longer you’re outside on hot days, more than an hour, and the higher intensity the exercise, the more risk you’re at. It also matters what you’re wearing. If you have to pad up for cricket, for example, that increases your body temperature.”
“Being pregnant is a risk factor for exercising in the heat, and certain medical conditions like diabetes, heart disease, kidney failure or on certain medications that affect your blood pressure you’ll be more susceptible.”
What precautions can you take to keep exercising safely in the heat?
“Minimise your exposure on a hot day,” says Dr Shang. “That might be 30 to 50 minutes maximum on a day above 30 degrees, and have access to shade. Listen to your body. If you’re feeling light-headed, stop and rest.
If you are exercising in the heat, there are some key things you can do to minimise the risk it can pose to your health:
- use sunscreen UVA/UVB 50+ and reapply as per the instructions
- stay hydrated with water
- have easy access to shade
- monitor how you’re feeling and if there are any signs of heat impact, cease exercising and if the symptoms don’t improve within 15-20 minutes, seek medical attention or call an ambulance
What alternative exercises can you do when it’s too hot to get active outside?
- When it’s too hot to exercise outdoors, take advantage of the many ways you can exercise indoors.
- train in an indoor gym with good air conditioning and ventilation
- do an online yoga, Pilates, HIIT or dance class (you can find some videos Get Active @ Home section of our This Girl Can – Victoria campaign website)
- go for a swim in an indoor pool
- do a studio or gym class in an air-conditioned venue
Ultimately, finding a way to exercise safely, even when it’s too hot to do so safely outside is a great idea because it has so many mental and physical benefits. So you can either look at ways to minimise your risk if you are going to continue to train outdoors in the heat, or indoor alternatives, too.