Jim Silva: How to play it cool this summer while exercising

07/16/2014 12:00 AM

07/17/2014 9:52 AM

One of the big challenges with staying fit during these hot summer months is dealing with the effects of the heat.

I encountered a hot, muggy day in San Diego on June 1 when I ran my last marathon. As I detailed afterward, I lost a lot of fluids during the race and had to take extra time and energy to make sure I was properly hydrated as I completed my journey.

While you may not be training for a marathon, if you are exercising outside during these hot summer months you need to be aware of the heat and how it can affect your body. Here are a few tips on dealing with the heat.

• Adjust your schedule. If you usually run or work out outdoors in the afternoon, consider waiting until later in the evening when the temperature drops a little. If you usually run at 9 a.m., try to wake up earlier and go at 7. It may not seem like much, but a 5-10 degree drop in the temperature can make a big difference. Another easy way to adjust your workout schedule is to move your exercise indoors. I do a lot of running on the treadmill of my local gym during the summer. It’s not as enjoyable as running outdoors, but it allows me to continue my training while avoiding the extreme temperatures of the Central Valley summer.
• Use proper gear. Make sure the clothes you’re exercising in are proper for the temperatures. Modern workout equipment is made for extreme temperatures. By doing a little research online you can find relatively inexpensive garments that will help you stay cooler than you otherwise would be.
• Don’t forget the sunscreen. Protecting your skin is important when you’re working out outside. Not only can a sunburn be painful, it can keep you out of training for a few days while you recover. That’s why it’s important to use sunscreen, whether you’re heading out on an 8-mile run or going to play outdoor basketball for a few hours. I always run with a running cap and sunglasses when it’s sunny outside in order to help keep my body temperature down.
• Hydration is a lifestyle. One thing many people do wrong is only hydrating right before, during or right after a hard workout. Instead, you should be hydrating yourself all day long, every day – even on days where you’re not working out. When Modesto ultramarathoner Jon Olsen came into the office a few years ago for an interview, he carried a water bottle with him. He told me he takes it wherever he goes so that he is continually hydrated. Our bodies need to be hydrated throughout the day and throughout the week. Drinking water often throughout the day not only helps your exercise performance, it can help you lose weight, too.
• Cut it short. If you normally work out for 60 minutes, cut it to 45 or 50. You can still exert yourself at the same level that you usually do, but cutting down the time will reduce the effects of the heat. Another option is to work out for the same amount of time but reduce the level of exertion. Bottom line: If you’re exercising in extreme heat, something’s got to give, or you’ll risk a heat-related illness, such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
• Know your body. There are many reasons to have good body awareness, whether it’s to avoid an injury or know just how far you can push your body. This is true for your ability to cope with the heat. My boss loves to run in hot weather; he enjoys running during the highest temperatures of the day. I wilt in the heat. The marathon in San Diego was a reminder that I cannot push myself to a peak performance on a hot day. If I do another marathon, it likely will be in a cool-weather spot. Having a good understanding of how I’m feeling during a workout helps me avoid problems. I could have pushed myself to an extreme in San Diego; there were many runners who were overcome by the heat during the marathon. Instead, I realized that my body was not going to be able to overcome the heat. So I slowed my pace, did some walking and finished, without suffering from the heat’s effects.

There are, of course, many more tips on how to handle the heat. If you need more tips, check out Runner’s World magazine online. A search of “hot weather running” provides a number of good articles on the topic.

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