We wait for it all year long, dreaming of day-long bike rides, picnics, barbecues, and lemonade stands for the kids. But when summer heat indices are dangerously high – and factor in humidity for a real seasonal wallop – working out in the great outdoors may present a challenge. That said, many of us don’t relish spending hours inside a gym or very possibly don’t have a gym membership to begin with. So how can we stay motivated, healthy, and active throughout the dog days of summer?
Best time to try
First, experts say to adjust your workout to avoid the hottest times of the day, which is generally between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. (watch out for high pollution indices during these hours as well). For many of us, the steamy sting of afternoon heat and humidity can snake all the way to sunset, however, so if you can begin your workout around dawn it should gave you ample time to pull yourself inside – avoiding the afternoon entirely. If you are one of the millions of workers who need to be at work at the crack of dawn, timing your workout to sundown (be sure to wear reflective clothing) is the next best thing, though you’ll still be dealing with the waning heat of day.
When first exercising in heat and humidity, sports medicine pros recommend easing into it by cutting back on the duration of your usual workout. The same three miles that was manageable in the spring may send our bodies into overdrive if we jump in with a stopwatch during June, July, and August. Just as athletes may need to give their body time to adjust to high altitudes when traveling for competition, the onslaught of sweltering heat and humidity can unduly stress our unhabituated bodies resulting in exhaustion, nausea, light-headedness, muscle cramps, weakness, and more.
Just order water
Our bodies are 50 to 60 percent water, and we’re said to lose 2 to 3 percent of that during exercise. The best response is preparation: eating water-rich fruits and vegetables and drinking (though not forcing fluids, which can result in hyponatremia – or overhydration) throughout the day. It’s best not to skimp though, as waiting to replenish lost fluids afterwards can result in dehydration during exercising much faster. Carry a water bottle and sip during exercise whenever possible. Nutritionists advise steering clear of sports drinks which are high in calories and sugar, and anything containing caffeine can cause rapid fluid loss as caffeine is a diuretic. Consuming potassium-rich foods such as bananas, prunes, fish, and sweet potatoes are a good bet for summer, as potassium can be lost during sweating from heavy exertion.
To screen or not to screen
Some health practitioners believe sunscreen – which we tend to slather on when exercising in summer – interferes with the production of crucial Vitamin D in our bodies as it blocks the sun’s rays. Astaxanthin, a supplement that acts as an internal sunscreen, can work just as well.*
Even if you don’t gravitate toward pools during the rest of the year, summer can be an excellent time to introduce refreshing lap swimming into your exercise routine. Many areas have community pools. If you live close enough to a lake or calm ocean, this is another option if you can get there often enough. In any case, remember never to swim alone (best option is a lifeguard-patrolled area).
A view to a burn
Though the great outdoors is the objective, when heat and humidity are extreme many sports enthusiasts use summer as the time to learn tennis or bone up on handball or basketball at an air conditioned indoor facility. Many have windows, so it’s the next best thing to being outside while toning up and burning those double fudge-scoop calories from the night before!
Ice, ice maybe
A strap-on ice pack/neck collar is a great heat remedy and can be applied while cycling, running, etc. Some tie into place and others come with an adjustable Velcro closure, available online or at many sporting goods or big box stores, pharmacies, and the like. An alternative is to soak a bandana in ice water prior to going out and tie around your head or neck, though its effects may not last as long.
*Be sure to check with your medical professional