Fitness: Acclimatize your body before the dog days of summer

Get your body acclimatized to the hot weather now so you’re better able to tackle the dog days of summer.

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The forecast is in and Canadians can expect a hot and humid summer. Perfect if you’re on a beach, but something to be wary of if you’re an outdoor enthusiast.

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Exercising in the heat has its consequences, including diminished performance, a spike in body temperature, elevated heart rate and the possibility of heat-related illnesses like heat exhaustion and heat stroke. And since climate change means more extreme weather patterns, chances are we’ll have to get used to sweating our way through more and more heat waves in the months and years ahead.

What do you do when the heat sets in? Be prepared. Get your body acclimatized to the hot weather now so you’re better able to tackle the dog days of summer.

It takes anywhere from 10 to 14 days for the body to fine-tune its cooling systems, including sweating earlier and in greater quantities. But not everyone acclimatizes at the same rate, nor do they start at the same baseline when it comes to tolerating the heat. Fit individuals are already pretty efficient at cooling during high-intensity workouts, so they tend to sweat more and store less body heat than those who spend less time in the gym.

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Still, it’s the evaporation of sweat, not sweat itself, that cools the body, something to keep in mind on hot, humid days when evaporation is compromised. And while it’s important to drink water, find shade and move your workout to a cooler part of the day during a heat wave, sometimes there’s no choice around what time your team is playing or when you can squeeze in your long run or bike ride. Hence the need to understand how to get your body acclimatized to exercising when the temperature spikes.

The trick to optimizing cooling is methodically exposing your body to multiple short bouts of hot weather exercise. Forget about pushing yourself through your regular workouts when the heat is on. Keep it short (under 30 minutes) and easy. And if possible, time it to coincide with the warmest part of the day.

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Admittedly, those first few hot weather workouts will be tough. But within four to five days, depending how often you sweat it out in the heat, you should start feeling more comfortable. Once you feel that change, go ahead and slowly increase the length and intensity of your workouts to further adapt to the heat and meet your exercise goals.

If you’re travelling this summer, it’s worth noting that heat acclimatization is specific to the climate. So if you’re well-adjusted to running in Vancouver heat, you’re going to find it tough to take on the humidity of a Montreal summer. Plan on re-acclimatizing to the environment if you’re going to be training or competing in conditions different from what your body is used to.

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Yet even those comfortable in the summer heat need to take extra precautions on days when the temperature soars and humidity sets in. There’s a breaking point in everyone’s cooling system where they can no longer compensate for the one-two combination of extreme exercise and extreme heat. In that case it’s best to find a cool place to work out, be it in a pool, lake or air-conditioned gym. Or change your workout schedule to an easy day opting for hot yoga instead of your normal sweaty aerobic routine.

It’s also important to dress for the heat. Choose loose, light-coloured breathable clothing that allows sweat to evaporate. And consider wearing a hat made from the same type of lightweight fabric, offering sun protection without trapping the hot air next to your body.

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And don’t forget to drink water before, during and after a warm weather workout. Leave the house well hydrated (preferably drinking an ice-cold beverage just before heading out the door), keep a water bottle beside the pitch or court and replace fluids lost through sweat at the end of every workout.

It’s also a great idea to have a second water or spray bottle on hand to pour over your head and/or mist your face, neck and chest when feeling overheated. Dousing your hat with water and putting it back on your head also provides relief from the hot sun.

Finally, listen to your body, especially when it comes to the fatigue and discomfort experienced during warm weather workouts. Symptoms that your internal body temperature is rising to levels that cause heat exhaustion or heat stroke include lightheadedness, rapid breathing, nausea, elevated thirst and muscle cramping. If you experience any of these symptoms, you need to react quickly. Decrease the intensity of your workout, find shade, drink water and take a cooling shower when you get home.

Approached with the right amount of caution and preparedness, exercising in the heat is safe. After all, it’s what every outdoor enthusiast dreams about during the long winter months when the hot weather season seems so far away. So grab a hat and water bottle and take advantage of the very best that summer has to offer.

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