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Beating the Summer Heat - Work, Training, and Play

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Summer time is the time to be outside, but there are some days (many recently) that can be dangerous to your health and cause poor performance if you neglect some very basic steps to avoid overheating. If you work, train, or play sports outside, depending upon your location in the Northern Hemisphere, you are likely hot. To avoid overheating, heat exhaustion, or even heat stroke / death, you have to actively pursue heat recovery steps like the following:

  1. HYDRATE – HYDRATE – HYDRATE: Keep water to avoid dehydration from perspiration. In arid environments, you will not see sweat, but more than likely you will see salt stains on your clothing and have very dry skin / chapped lips. Recommended amounts of water increase with prolonged activity so make sure you are getting the 3-4 quarts of water a day at least. This number depends on your size as it is not universal. Typical water amounts can be 50% of your body weight in pounds = number of ounces you need per day. Therefore, a 200 pound man needs 100 ounces of water a day -- especially if outdoor activity level is high.
  2. Do not forget electrolytes if you are sweating / have salt stains for long periods of time. Fruits and vegetables contain salts like potassium, calcium, magnesium, and sodium will help you replace the minerals needed to keep the body functioning properly. Gatorade, coconut water and other sources of electrolytes are recommended after an hour of activity where heavy sweating is produced. Depending upon the heat, you may need them sooner – but DO NOT FORGET WATER. Water is still important.
  3. Wear white: If you are in the sun for long periods of time, wear clothes with reflective colors (hat, shirt, shorts) to help you stay cooler. By having on a dark colored (or worse BLACK) clothing, you can increase the temperature inside the shirt by 20 degrees Fahrenheit. For a science fair project, my son actually did a test with a white and black shirt with a pound of ground beef in a Ziploc bag using a meat thermometer.  In direct sunlight, the dark shirt was anywhere between 20-30 degrees hotter.
  4. Stay cool: Half of fatigue is body heat. There are many quick ways to keep your body heat down, depending upon your situation. If you live near the water or pool, use it to jump into occasionally if outdoors working or playing. Keep your wet clothes on, if you do not mind wearing wet clothes. If you are in the military, being uncomfortable by being wet can outweigh overheating and falling out of a mission or training exercise.
    1. Ice packs: If you have access to a freezer, grab some ice or cold water bottles and place it in your hands, on your neck, or even armpits to help cool the blood heading from your extremities to your core. Touch your face and neck with your hands to help cool off when you have to stay dry.
    2. Wet cloth: If getting entirely wet is not an option, wet a cloth with cold (ice filled) water and place it on your head and neck throughout the day.
    3. Head in the water: Your head gets hot quickly and you will likely notice the heat coming off your head. Place your head in cold water or pour cold water on your head regularly when you can.
  5. Stay in the air conditioning if you can: Some days when the temperatures are in the 100+ range with high humidity, it can be dangerously hot but contribute to poor air quality, so staying inside is an answer. If you do not have air conditioning, an old trick we used to do growing up in Florida was to place a wet towel or sheet over an open window and a box fan in front of it a few feet. It would draw in air from outside but moderately "cool" the air as it entered the house.
  6. Take a shower: If you cannot jump in a pool or open water source, find a shower and make it cold. Let the water hit your head and take deep breaths as your body gets used to the cold water.
  7. Get your outside work done in the morning: The coolest part of the day is right at sunrise. Though it may still be uncomfortable and warm and humid -- it is likely not very hot and humid yet. So shoot for doing most work, training, and sports first thing in the morning before noon.
  8. Acclimate to the heat: Do not just go outside your first time when it is 100+ degrees. Make sure your activity level is normal throughout the more moderate temperatures. When it is 70-80 degrees, then reaching the 90s, make sure you are used to those temperatures as well. When you know it is going to be a scorcher in the next week, get outside the week before and get used to it. Try not using the AC in the car for some trips during the acclimation week prior to an above average week of temperatures.

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Contributor

Stew Smith works as a presenter and editorial board member with the Tactical Strength and Conditioning program of the National Strength and Conditioning Association and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS). He has also written hundreds of articles on Military.com's Fitness Center that focus on a variety of fitness, nutritional, and tactical issues military members face throughout their career.

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