How to exercise in a heatwave: We ask the experts for tips on working out safely

As we sweat through another bout of high temperatures, exercise might be the last thing you want to do.

But just because it’s hot doesn’t mean you have to give up your exercise routine entirely if you normally exercise and feel the need for physical activity.

Of course, to be completely safe, you should avoid unnecessary physical exertion during a heatwave, says Oliver Gibson, Senior Lecturer in Exercise Physiology at Brunel University London.

“However, given that climate change is unlikely to be reversed in the coming decades, we cannot avoid activity entirely as it would be counterproductive to health,” he told Euronews Next.

“People are creatures of habit and those who exercise regularly will continue to do so. For these people, making good choices about their exercise habits is crucial.”

As high temperatures will unfortunately be a major part of the coming summers, here are some tips on how to adapt your normal routine and exercise safely in the heat.

1. Walk early in the morning and keep your pace

“Unless you exercise regularly, I wouldn’t start exercising in a heatwave,” Rebekah Lucas, associate professor of physical activity and health at the University of Birmingham, told Euronews Next.

But if you normally exercise and are relatively fit and healthy, there’s no reason not to continue exercising when you feel like it – with a few precautions.

Think of the heat as an added training load, says Lucas.

“Just as you wouldn’t run at the same pace up a hill, you shouldn’t run at the same pace in a really hot environment,” she advised.

So regulate your pace and walk slower or cover a shorter distance than you normally would, considering the extra stress the heat will cause you.

Opt for indoor training or make sure you get up and train during the coolest part of the day; Early morning is usually best when temperatures are low.

“In the evening, we get a lot of that urban heat island effect when you’re in a city or urban area,” Lucas said.

2. Swap out your normal routine for lower-intensity workouts

When the going gets hot, change up the intensity of your normal exercise routine, says University of Nottingham Sports fitness coach Shoaib Raza.

A heat wave is not the time to worry about chasing personal bests, says Raza. For example, if you’re doing strength training, decrease the load or do fewer repetitions. If you’re a runner, take a break from the long distances and opt for interval training.

Circuit training or interval training are particularly good options, he added, since these types of workouts naturally include breaks so you can drink more sips of water or take a short break.

“With circuit training or interval training, you get those 10 seconds, 20 seconds between sets or intervals, so you get a little rest there to recover and drink more water,” he told Euronews Next.

Consider staying indoors to exercise, replacing a long run outdoors with activities like resistance training at home with resistance bands or bodyweight training, or switching to yoga or stretching exercises.

3. Choose loose-fitting clothing

When you’re on the go and active, it’s beneficial to wear layered clothing that allows air movement over your skin. Choose light-colored clothing made from natural fabrics like cotton and wool that allow for a little more airflow, says Lucas.

Synthetic fabrics used in workout clothes can be good at wicking moisture, but Lucas says that personally she would still tend to stick with natural materials.

And when you’re outside, make sure you wear enough sunscreen to avoid sunburn. You should also consider wearing a hat to avoid direct sunlight on your head.

4. Drink and stay hydrated

It’s important to stay hydrated in hot temperatures, and even more so when you’re exercising.

Preparation is key. For example, if you have an early morning workout, plan ahead the night before.

“Make sure you’re really well hydrated beforehand,” Lucas said.

“So if you’re thinking, ‘I want to get up in the morning and exercise,’ then make sure you’re really well hydrated at night before bed, and then have a small drink before you head out to bed “.

And of course you should always have a drink on hand during training.

“The type of fluid is not critical in the short term, although hydration or decaffeinated sports drinks are beneficial over water because they also contain minerals known as electrolytes, which help with fluid retention,” Gibson said.

“Colder drinks can lower body temperature a bit before and after exercise,” he added.

“This is another method to dampen the rise in body temperature.”

5. Listen to your body and pay attention to warning signs

It’s important to listen to your body and look out for physical warning signs. Exercising when it’s hot outside puts extra stress on your body and you can risk serious illness if you’re not careful while exercising.

“Heat illness occurs on a continuum,” Gibson said. “The first signs are dizziness, lightheadedness and tiredness”.

“These are all tips to stop activity and start cooling down immediately to reduce the chance of more severe heat illness.”

Keep in mind that not only do you have to watch out for hot temperatures, but also for humidity and the combination of both, says Lucas. Exercising itself, as well as high temperatures and high humidity, can increase your core body temperature.

What happens when we train in a very hot and especially a very humid environment is that we really struggle to shed heat effectively, she says.

And when the humidity is really high, it’s much more difficult for us to lose heat through the evaporation of sweat.

“As a result, our core body temperature rises.”

You might consider splashing water on your skin regularly during exercise and “allowing the water to dry naturally, with the wind or with air movement, because it’ll really help cool you down,” Lucas said.

And when you’re done exercising, be sure to cool down properly, don’t suddenly stop your workout, and make sure you have water with you for later.

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