As I am sure all of you know, our bodies cool as a result of sweating. But, what happens when your body can’t produce sweat and you are in an excessively hot environment. The short, non-threatening answer is, dehydration. Symptoms of mild to moderate dehydration include dry mouth and weakness and mental fatigue or disorientation. However, one should not ignore the signs and the dangers of severe dehydration. They include; sunken eyes, the inability to sweat, failure to produce tears and an accelerated heart beat. If any of these symptoms continue for too long without attention, it could lead to coma and, of course, ultimately death.
So what can you do if you are exercising (especially in the heat) and want to avoid this often overlooked health condition?
Never begin to exercise, especially in extreme heat, without previously drinking water (See Body Designs 2 and 24). While it’s true that too much liquid may make you feel sluggish when you exercise, drink modest amounts over several hours to ensure that you’ll be well prepared for the heat without risking cramping from drinking too much.
Also, bring along some bottled water for emergencies. I know it can be difficult to perform at your best while carrying a cumbersome bottle, however there are packs available that you can strap to your waist or shoulder to minimize discomfort.
If you are planning on exercising for more than 90 minutes or begin to sweat profusely, you need to replace your lost electrolytes. Therefore, choose any of the popular sport drinks over water.
Use sunscreen and avoid sunburn. Sunburn decreases your body’s ability to cool itself and causes fluid loss. Use sunblock with SPF 15 or higher. Wear a hat that provides shade (no visors) and allows for ventilation.
Acclimate to the Heat. If you are going to travel to a hotter climate than what you body is used to, if possible, take a day or two and get slowly accustomed to it by exercising at a lesser intensity and a shorter duration. Also, exercise closer to sunrise or sunset. Exercising during the hottest time of day is a sure-fire way to become increase your chances of dehydration.
Exercise with a friend; or at least let people know where you’ll be if you’re going alone. The buddy system is key here. And don’t be afraid to use it. If you’re with someone and they don’t seem right to you, intervene. Also, if you begin to feel disoriented or sluggish, don’t be embarrassed to ask for help.
Finally, use common sense. Avoid eating hot or spicy foods, alcohol that increase your core temperature. Avoid drinking coffee or teas with caffeine, as these drinks promote dehydration. And, if you begin to have a headache, become fatigued too quickly or irritable or notice a drastic drop in performance, stop exercising and begin to cool off.