How To Safely Exercise In Warm Weather

A hot day might be beautiful for a jog, but it’s also dangerous. The body cools down by sweating. The higher the temperature, the more you sweat. The more you sweat, the more dehydrated you become. If you don’t take precautions, you could suffer health consequences.

Simple actions such as applying sunscreen, knowing the safest hours to be outside, and staying hydrated can keep you cool. Here’s how you can safely exercise on warm days.

Cool Down Before You Work Out

An athlete balances an ice bag on her head.
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Bernd Thissen/picture alliance via Getty Images

Don’t wait until you’re sweating to drink water or cool your body. Kinesiology professor Stephen S. Cheung recommends lowering your body temperature before working out. Drink iced water or place ice packs on your back.

Not only will this cool you down, but it will also increase your performance. In 2014, a study found that cooling down gives oxygen to your blood. When you exercise, you don’t have to expend so much energy. Plus, you’ll feel better.

Drink Water Before, During, And After

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@spanic/Unsplash
@spanic/Unsplash

On warm days, the worst thing you can to your body is not to drink water. Exercise physiologist Jaime Roberts explains that the body cools off through sweating. When you get dehydrated, you won’t produce sweat. That’s how health problems can arise.

About 30 minutes before you exercise, drink a glass of water. You want to start out hydrated. Throughout your workout, drink water every 15 to 20 minutes. Stay hydrated afterward; the body will continue to sweat as long as it feels warm.

Allow Your Body To Adapt To The Weather

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When your body isn’t acclimated to the hot weather, you will become dehydrated much faster. Don’t dive into long, exhausting exercises during the first week of warm weather.

Scientists say that the body adjusts to the weather by about 50% after the first week. The second week acclimates the body to around 80%. When working out in the heat, start slow. Let your body adapt, and your workouts will change with it.

Don’t Wait Until You’re Thirsty

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Many people wait to drink water until they feel thirsty. But this can be a mistake, says exercise physiologist Jessica Matthews. When you become thirsty, you’re already 1% to 2% dehydrated. Even when you’re swimming, you can get dehydrated.

How can you tell when you need water? Try the urine test. The darker your urine is, the more water you need, say Urology Specialists. If your urine looks like pale lemonade, you have enough water in your system.

Skip The Pre-Workout Snack (Or Eat A Better One)

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Nicolas Armer/picture alliance via Getty Images

Usually, a protein-rich snack makes the perfect pre-workout fuel. In hot weather, skip it. Dr. Luigi Gratton says that high-protein foods raise your body temperature. Starchy and fatty foods also make you feel warmer.

If you need a snack, eat hydrating foods. Fruits and vegetables, such as apples, berries, cucumbers, and avocado, will keep your body cool. Drink water and don’t overeat, or else you’ll feel sluggish. To prevent cramps, eat 45 minutes before your workout.

How Sunscreen Lowers Body Temperature

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Always wear sunscreen on a hot day, even if it’s cloudy. Not only does it protect your skin from UV rays, but it also cools your body. When UV rays hit your skin, they raise nitric oxide in the blood, which causes you to feel hotter.

Researchers at Penn State University found that sunscreen prevents nitric oxide from increasing. Participants who applied an SPF of at least 50 felt cooler in hot weather. Lather up!

Dress For The Weather

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Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images for Challenge Triathlon
Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images for Challenge Triathlon

While exercising in the heat, your workout clothes make all the difference. Of course, most people won’t wear a jacket in hot weather. But you should also avoid dark clothes, says the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Dark fabric soaks up the sunlight.

Light-colored clothing reflects the sunlight and cools the body. While shopping, search for lightweight, wicking clothing. Wear fabrics that breathe and allow your sweat to evaporate, which will cool you down. Don’t change into a dry shirt.

Don’t Forget Humidity; It’s Worse Than Heat

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Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images

Humidity can be more dangerous than dry heat. Because the air is moist, sweat doesn’t evaporate. The body can’t cool down, no matter how much it perspires. “People often don’t realize how hot and humid it is until they are already in trouble,” says sports medicine specialist Dr. William O. Roberts.

Unfortunately, some people don’t take humidity into account before exercising. You’ll have to drink a lot of water and shorten your routine in humid weather.

Choose The Coolest Time And Place

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Arne Dedert/picture alliance via Getty Images

During hot seasons, avoid exercising when the sun is at its height. According to the American Heart Association, the hottest hours are between noon and 3:00 p.m. Stick to morning and evening workouts.

Also, choose a cool location. A windy or shady area can lower the temperature by up to ten degrees. Pick a park, beach, or trail with at least a few shady spots for breaks. Wear a breathable hat if you need extra shade.

No Need To Fear Sports Drinks

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Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Some health websites advise against sports drinks because they add calories. But in extreme heat, sports drinks lend you sodium and electrolytes that water doesn’t. According to a 2007 study, these drinks improve athletic performance more than water.

If you aren’t a sports drink or electrolyte water fan, you can try salt tablets. Sweat removes sodium, which leaves you vulnerable to the heat. In 2016, researchers found that salt tablets hydrated men more than water in extreme heat.

Slow Down Your Pace

A man exercises outside in the sun.
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Dino Lloyd/Gallo Images via Getty Images

Don’t try to set your new personal record in hot weather. Suzanne Girard Eberle, a sports dietitian and former elite runner, advises athletes to accept that they will be slower. Your body is still adjusting to the climate; don’t push yourself too hard.

Shorten your routine to 30 minutes at the most. Take breaks. Listen to your body. If you work out with a friend who is used to the heat, beware. Eberle recommends not trying to keep up with them.

Know The Signs Of Heat Sickness

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If you exercise in hot weather, know the symptoms of heat sickness. You’ll want to take care of yourself before the condition worsens. Seattle Children’s Hospital divides the condition into three different illnesses: heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke.

According to the CDC, heat cramps occur when your muscles spasm or ache. Take a break when this happens. Heat exhaustion involves nausea, dizziness, cold skin, headache, and a weak pulse. Heatstroke has all of these along with confusion and possibly losing consciousness.

If You Feel Sick Or Faint, Take Action

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@sarti46/Unsplash
@sarti46/Unsplash

Knowing the symptoms of heat sickness is only half the battle. You should also take action if you feel any of those symptoms. Mayo Clinic emphasizes that you should prioritize cooling and rehydrating.

First, find a cool place to rest. Slowly sip the water; don’t gorge yourself. If you’re wearing tight clothing, a helmet, or padding, remove or loosen it. If you struggle to see or move, call the emergency line. You can never be too safe.

If You Have A Medical Condition, Talk To Your Doctor

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Some medications and medical conditions increase the danger of warm workouts. According to the American Heart Association, medicines such as diuretics, beta-blockers, and ace inhibitors can make your body more prone to heat.

People with high blood pressure should also take care. Heatstroke can harm the heart, kidneys, and liver, according to John Hopkins Medicine. If you think you need help, talk to your doctor about working out in hot weather. They may provide some tips or reassurance.

Beware Of High Altitudes

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Frank Rumpenhorst/picture alliance via Getty Images

Jogging in the mountains may feel breezy and cool, but not during the warm seasons. According to Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews, high places have lower atmospheric pressure. This also means lower oxygen. People who exercise in high places may tire out twice as quickly.

Add that on top of high heat–more sweat, more fatigue–and you have a recipe for disaster. If you’re used to high altitudes, go for it. But don’t bike up a high hill if you have not adjusted to it.

Work Out With A Friend

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Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Exercising in hot weather is hard, but you can make it easier by joining a friend. If either of you struggles or develops heat sickness, the other can help. Plus, exercising with friends can motivate you to work harder.

In the Journal of Social Sciences, one study concluded that exercising together is always better. Friends who joined a weight loss program together were 95% likely to complete it. There’s no downside to exercising with friends.

Swimming Doesn’t Hydrate You

International swimmer Danielle Hill Irish practices in a pool.
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Believe it or not, you can still get dehydrated while swimming. In fact, it’s easier to become dehydrated while swimming because you don’t know how much you’re sweating. The body still sweats in the water, says physical therapist G. John Mullen.

Research in Science and Sport found that people sweat more in warm water. Whether you’re in the sun or a hot tub, you need to drink water. Never assume that the pool or ocean will hydrate you.

Don’t Expect To Perform As Well

The silhouette of a woman jogs next to the water on a sunny day.
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Julian Stratenschulte/picture alliance via Getty Images

People gain more muscle and exercise more in cool weather. Scientists from the University of Nebraska found that heat changes cell physiology. The result? Working out in hot weather does not benefit your body as much as cold weather.

Expect to feel a bit more sluggish or tired during a warm workout session. The hotter it is, the more you will feel physically affected. Don’t dive headfirst into a tough workout when the weather warms.

Have A Backup Plan

Gym members run on treadmills while looking outside.
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Even if you’re used to exercising outside, you don’t have to. You may gain more benefits from working out at home or in a gym. Researcher Dustin Slivka says that the body responds to heat “as if no exercise had occurred.”

As people adjust to heat, they can burn more calories and build muscle outside. But if you haven’t acclimated, you may not gain much from exercising. Have a backup plan to work out indoors if outdoor workouts don’t work out.

Hats Won’t Make You Hotter

A man wears a hat while stretching before teaching a workout class.
Tom Cooper/Getty Images for Wellness Your Way Festival
Tom Cooper/Getty Images for Wellness Your Way Festival

A common myth states that 70% of your body heat escapes through your head. With that logic, wearing a hat raises your body temperature. But this isn’t true, says Andrew Maynard, the director of the Risk Science Center.

Research concludes that hats do not raise your body temperature significantly. Don’t be afraid to wear a hat for extra shade. In the worst-case scenario, you may sweat more around your forehead. But you will receive less sun.