We need at least seven to 10 days of repeated exposure to heat to safely acclimate to the change of environment. The amount of stress on the body is directly related to a combination of air temperature, humidity level, hydration level and length and intensity of the workout. Any one factor or a combination of them can be dangerous -- even fatal -- if symptoms are ignored.
Initially, cut the duration of your activity in half. Go easy on the intensity. Your heart is working twice as hard trying to keep up with the exercise demands while cooling you at the same time.
If possible, exercise early in the morning or late in the evening when the heat and humidity are lower. If you have no control over the time of day, the duration or the intensity -- for example, a competitive tennis match -- use caution from noon to 5 p.m. by taking the allotted breaks, hydrating frequently and using cool, wet towels around your neck whenever possible.
It is essential to drink plenty of water before your activity. It is just as important to continue drinking 6 to 8 ounces of water or sports drink every 15 to 20 minutes until you have completed your activity. This will make a tremendous difference in your system's ability to deal with the heat and stress.
Don't ignore symptoms
Heat-illness symptoms indicate stress and a need to stop exercise. These symptoms are: dizziness, headache, chills, fatigue, tachycardia (rapid heart rate), diarrhea, nausea, leg cramps or any general feeling that something isn't "right." If any one of these is present, stop the workout, remove yourself from the heat and drink water.
How hot is too hot?
Because it can be different for everyone, pay attention and base your decisions on your feelings and the presence of heat stress symptoms. Never rely on someone else's perception as to whether it's too hot to continue. You need to know when to throw in the towel. However, by preparing for the heat and by listening to your body, you can safely move your activities to the beautiful outdoors.
Cindy Boggs, fitness presenter, author and Activate America director, has been an ACE-certified coordinator/instructor since 1989. Send your questions about fitness, training or health to YMCA of Kanawha Valley, 100 YMCA Drive, Charleston, WV 25311 or e-mail cindys...@aol.com. Look for her award winning fitness advice book, "CindySays ... You Can Find Health in Your Hectic World" on her Web site www.cindysays.com or contact the YMCA at 340-3527.