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Beat the Heat When Exercising Outdoors

Summer is a great time to exercise outdoors—a change of scenery, fresh air and sun. But, you've got to take precautions so that sunshine doesn't overwhelm you.

Don't eat the hour before you go outside. As your food digests, it raises your body temperature. Eat after your workout once you finish cooling down.

Always use a good sunscreen. The sun protection factor (SPF) should be 15 or higher. Choose oil-free ones, so they don't clog your pores. Because you sweat when you exercise, the waterproof sunscreens are the best choice. Make sure whichever one you choose protects from both UVA and UVB rays.

Bring plenty of water. To keep it cold, freeze it the night before or stuff a thermos full of ice. (Be careful though, sometimes really cold drinks can cause cramps.) Then take a drink every 15 to 20 minutes.

If you find yourself forgetting to drink, get a cheap waterproof watch that chimes every 15 minutes. An average size person should drink at least 3 or 4 cups an hour. If you're heavier, you'll need to drink more. And unless you're outside for more than 2 hours, it's unlikely you'll need any of the additives found in "sports" drinks. Your body primarily needs water, not extra sugar and salt or trace amounts of vitamins.

Want to know exactly how much water you should be drinking? Weigh yourself before you start your exercise. When you finish, weigh yourself again. If you weigh less, you didn't drink enough to replace the water you lost. If you weigh more, you drank too much!

Wear light-colored and loose-fitting clothing. Dark colors will absorb the heat and make you hotter. Skip mesh clothing or tank tops; they don't offer enough protection against the sun. The ideal fabrics are ones that help with heat loss and evaporation. Cotton, acrylic, ClimaLite, CoolMax, Ingeo, polypropylene, PrimaLoft, Sensura, Thermax, Thorlon and Wonder-Wick are all reasonable moisture-wicking fabrics.

Bring along a towel to wipe the sweat off your face and out of your eyes. Sweat cools you down by carrying away heat as it evaporates. If it's humid outside, there's less evaporation of perspiration, so it's good to use a towel to wipe the sweat away. You might even consider a wet bandana around the neck to help keep you cooler.

Don't forget a hat and sunglasses. The hat should have a brim to keep the sun off your face, and use a strap with your glasses, so they don't fall off as you exercise.

Warm-up and cool down like usual. The sun may feel hot on your skin, but that doesn't mean your muscles are warmed up. When you cool down, bring it inside where there's a breeze or air conditioning.

Ease into your summer routine. Start a little slower and give your body plenty of time to adjust to the heat.

Avoid the hottest parts of the day. Depending on where you live, it can really start to heat up after about 10:00 or 10:30 in the morning. Then it usually doesn't begin to let up until after 3:30 or 4:00 in the afternoon. But if that's the only time you can exercise, look for shade. It can be as much as 10 degrees cooler in the shadow of a tree or under a forest canopy.

Remember there are 24 hours in a day. There's nothing written that says you can't exercise after the sun goes down when it's typically much cooler. As long as you're in a safe neighborhood and you wear reflective clothing so you're easy to spot, a nighttime jog can be both refreshing and peaceful.

Be aware of the heat index. The heat index, also known as the apparent temperature, is what the temperature feels like to the human body when relative humidity is combined with the air temperature. When they're both high, your body reacts as if it's hotter than the thermostat may indicate. If it's above 90, keep your workouts shorter. If it's above 105, hit the water or workout inside.

NOAA's National Weather Service - Heat Index

NOAA's National Weather Service - Heat Index Chart

When it's really hot, head to the beach and walk waist-deep through the water. Take an aqua-aerobics class or swimming lessons. If you live somewhere with wind, try surfing or surfboarding. Even paddling around in a rowboat or kayak can be refreshing if you splash some water on yourself every few minutes.

Please note that while water is refreshing, you should avoid heated pools. When the water's 80 degrees Fahrenheit or warmer, exercising in it can cause dehydration and overheating.

You've overdone it if you feel confused, dizzy, headaches, lethargic, light-headedness, muscle cramps, nausea or weakness. It's also a problem if you stop sweating or get goosebumps on your upper body. Those are all signs of potential heat exhaustion. Drink plenty of fluids, find a cool place to rest and seek medical help if symptoms persist.

When you really want to be outside but just can't fathom the heat, try activities like stretching or yoga. Both are lower in intensity than traditional exercise programs and both are most effective when muscle temperature is high.

If you bring a pet along when you exercise, don't forget about them. They need protection from and sun and fluids just like you do.

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