After what seems like months of rain, the sun is out and many people are starting new exercise routines that include outdoor workouts. I’m a runner myself, and I know that personally, I have been looking forward to finding time to run outdoors when it’s not raining. While exercise is almost always a good thing, it’s important to make sure the routine you’re planning is right for you. Here are some things you should know before embarking on any physical activity outdoors.
Make Sure You’re Healthy
Whether you’re training for marathons, exercising outside, or even doing yard work, it’s important to know that you’re healthy enough to undertake the activity. The best thing you can do is schedule an appointment with your physician so they can check that you’re physically OK. After your doctor gives you the go-ahead, they’ll be able to help you set limits for what is within the healthy range of what you can do.
Play it Safe
- Check the weather report – In Texas, it’s important to remember that heat is not the only potential enemy when exercising outside. Humidity also plays a huge role in how much water we lose and affects our level of dehydration. The more humid it is, the more we sweat. It’s best to avoid working or exercising outside during the peak hours of sun exposure, so when you exercise, aim for outdoor workouts that are either in the morning or evening. I can tell you from personal experience that the more humid it is, the hotter it feels when you’re working out in the elements, so be prepared for what you’re about to exercise in.
- Warm up and cool down – Our bodies need time to ease into a workout, and they also need time to recover following one. Make sure that when exercising, especially outdoors, you give your body enough time to physically recover following the workout. Ten to 15 minutes of gradually increasing warm-up at the beginning and 10 to 15 minutes of a gradual cool-down at the end should be sufficient, but talk with your doctor to see what they recommend for you individually. Everyone is different.
- Stay hydrated – This is one of the most important things you can do during your exercise routine. Our bodies need water to thrive, and you’ll be losing a lot of water through sweat during your workout. The volume of water you lose will increase if you’re exercising outdoors, so make sure you are hydrated in the hours preceding your workout and that you drink water throughout.
Know the Signs of Heat-Related Illnesses
First and foremost, listen to your body. If you have chest pains, dizziness, shortness of breath, and severe fatigue or weakness, you need to stop your workout. Talk to your doctor, tell them what happened and let them check to make sure you may continue with your workout regimen.
Exercising outside can come with some potential heat-related illnesses if you’re not hydrated enough, or if it’s too hot. It’s important to know the signs of these conditions so that you can treat them the correct way. The two most common are heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Heat Exhaustion occurs when your body gets too hot. Symptoms include heavy sweating, feeling weak, dizzy or nauseated. You may also notice dark urine (a sign of dehydration) or a fast heartbeat. If you feel these symptoms, stop your work out, get into air conditioning and drink plenty of water. You can take a cool shower or bath and get out of any tight restrictive clothing. It’s also a good idea to avoid alcohol and caffeinated drinks, as they will further dehydrate you.
Heat Stroke is a serious, advanced condition that can occur if heat exhaustion is not properly treated and causes the internal temperature of the body to reach 104 degrees. Symptoms of heat stroke include high fever, red skin but no sweating, muscle weakness and cramps, seizures, fast breathing and severe headache. It can cause organ damage, including brain damage. If you have any of these symptoms, it’s a 911 situation. Do not wait, get medical attention immediately.
Dr. Leonardo Espitia is a family physician with Kelsey-Seybold’s The Woodlands Clinic. He specializes in the management of chronic medical conditions such as hypertension and diabetes.