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5 Keys for Safely Exercising in the Heat

Posted on: July 20, 2016

Exercising in the heat can be very tricky.  It’s not about just being uncomfortable, there are some real dangers often overlooked.


It’s common knowledge that we humans need to drink more water when exercising in the heat.  The lack of water can cause weakness, lightheadedness, fainting, nausea and even total collapse.  But the answer to being safe is not just to drink gallons of water.

Exercising in the heat creates a big increase in the need for your body to produce perspiration to cool down the body by evaporation.  You may not even notice the perspiration because it can evaporate quickly.

This needed perspiration uses up water of course but also releases electrolytes in the form of salts onto the skin.  This loss of electrolyte salts can be very serious.  When that happens the body can’t use all the additional water you drink and you can become internally unbalanced and dehydrated even while drinking lots of water.  In fact, taking in too much plain water can be a very serious problem at any time.

Drinking too much plain water especially when the body’s electrolytes are low can make you lose even more body water while forcing organs like the brain and kidneys to swell internally causing what is known as “water intoxication.”   You can suffer from water intoxication if you drink very large quantities of water at any time but especially when you are unknowingly in need of electrolytes.  These symptoms are often seen in marathon runners but can occur even in non-exercise conditions too.

The first observable symptoms of water intoxication are headache, confusion, irritability, and drowsiness.  There can be personality changes, or changes in behavior.   These are sometimes followed by difficulty breathing during exertion, muscle weakness and pain, twitching, or cramping, nausea, vomiting, thirst, and a dulled ability to perceive and interpret sensory information.  These are very serious symptoms and can be life threatening.  Get emergency medical attention if you or a companion exhibit these symptoms.

The key preventive here is make sure that as the temperature goes up you hydrate with electrolytes whether you think you need to or not.  When you are in the middle of a workout you can’t always be mentally in touch with your body’s need for hydration.


Another key problem with exercising in the heat is simply overheating.  It too is a big danger. As you exercise you produce extra heat and the heat produced has to be released through sweating and other natural cooling systems.  Your body temperature rises with the heat causing stress on body systems.  After all, the whole body can only function at a temperature very close to 98.6 F.

For example, your heart rate accelerates from heat exposure alone, so exercising in extreme heat can cause an extra strain on your heart. The effect is synergistic, meaning the total effect of exercise with heat is more than doubled than that of the exercise alone. For every degree your body’s internal temperature rises, your heart beats about 10 beats per minute faster.

If your heat starts to build up faster that the body can release it, your body temperature can suddenly soar to dangerous fever like levels.  Sometimes the body will sense this coming on and will start to shutdown before the temperature actually gets too high.  This means you can be in danger of collapse from overheating without realizing that you are even all that hot!!  These conditions are known as “heat exhaustion” and more seriously “heat stroke.”


Once any of this happens, recovery can take hours or days.  It’s not just a matter of cooling down, because delicately balanced chemistry and organ systems take time to re-balance to normal.  In severe cases organs are permanently damaged.   Keep in mind that you can very quickly go from feeling hot, to feeling nauseous, or to losing consciousness. Be smart and seek medical intervention if you experience any of these symptoms.  Don’t risk trying to treat this yourself.

5 keys to help prevent trouble when exercising in the heat:  

  • Acclimatize to the heat.  Research has proven that gradually increasing your exercise in the heat during the course of one or two weeks can give you much more ability to cope with a higher outside temperature while exercising.  Even two days of gradual buildup can be enough to help you cope with the heat.
  • Plan hydration strategies.  Plan regular intake of electrolyte rich fluids.  Beware of sweetened drinks and drinks flavored with artificial sweeteners, as they can make you worse not better.  Look for high quality electrolytes to add to your water or professional sports drinks available at specialty sports or running stores.
  • Develop cooling strategies.  Plan your clothing carefully, reducing exposure to the sun, using outdoor showers, ice packs etc.
  • Calibrate your activity.  This isn’t the time to stubbornly keep to your plan.  Modify your exercise to match the conditions.  Excessive heat reduces the capacity of the lungs and creates a strain on the heart.  Exercise planning for hot days should include reductions in overall intensity to match the conditions.
  • Find someone to partner with.  When the heat is high, always go out exercising with another person.  If no one will go with you, maybe you shouldn’t go either!  Two people together can be backups for each other in case of trouble, and there will be someone to call for professional help if you need it.

A little planning can go a long way to safely exercise in the heat!

At Westlake Village Chiropractic Arts, we are committed to supporting you in your journey of greater health & well-being. Contact us for your next visit.

Posted in: Exercise, Health & Well Being

Disclaimer: Dr. Stephen B. Chopyak, D.C is a chiropractor and does not offer medical or chiropractic advice from this website. This information is offered for educational purposes only. Do not act or rely upon our information without seeking an independent health care professional's advice. The information on this website does not create a physician-patient relationship between you and Dr. Chopyak. As with any medical procedure, results will vary among individuals, and there could be risk involved. These concerns should be discussed with your health care provider prior to any treatment so that you have proper informed consent and understand that there are no guarantees to healing. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem, condition or issue, promptly contact your health care provider. The statements on this website have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The photos used may be models and not patients.