Precautions can keep you safe while exercising in summer sun

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It is finally summer in Walla Walla, and we are seeing an increase in the number of people exercising outside. Whether you are working in your garden, playing basketball, running, cycling or just playing with your kids it is important to know how to accommodate for the rising temperatures.

As many people have noticed, exercising in the heat is harder on the body, and if proper precautions are not taken the risk of developing a heat-related illness increases.

When the body is exposed to high temperatures core body temperature increases. The body's reaction to heat is to increase blood flow to the skin, allowing the body to give off heat.

Sweating is the body's natural cooling system, but sometimes it just isn't enough, especially in humid areas because sweat does not evaporate as easily.

If body temperature gets too high then a heat-related illness can develop. This can lead to heat cramps, heat exhaustion, or heat stroke.

If you are planning to exercise outside you should learn how to recognize these conditions and also how to prevent them by taking proper precautions.

Heat-related illnesses go from mild to severe if not treated. The least severe is heat cramps; these are painful muscle spasms that mainly affect the legs and abdomen.

Heat exhaustion happens when your body temperature rises and its cooling system is overloaded. With heat exhaustion you may experience headache; nausea; dizziness; weakness; heavy sweating; cool, moist, pale, ashen, or flushed skin. If left untreated it can progress to heat stroke.

Heat stroke is the most severe of the heat illnesses, it happens when your body becomes overwhelmed by heat and stops functioning. This is a life-threatening condition; you may experience changes in level of consciousness, vomiting, and/or red, hot, dry skin. If this develops you need to get immediate medical attention.

To help keep yourself safe while exercising in hot weather there are a few simple precautions.

1. Stay hydrated

Before beginning your workout make sure you are fully hydrated, this helps your body to sweat and cool down. Plan to carry fluids (water or sports drink) with you on workouts longer than one hour; don't wait until you are thirsty to drink because by that time you are already in the early stages of dehydration.

2. Get acclimated

If you have been exercising indoors or in cooler weather decrease the intensity and length of your workouts while your body gets used to increased temperature. Also, know what the temperature is going to be during your planned workout time.

3. Dress appropriately

Wearing lightweight, loose fitting clothing helps sweat evaporate and will also keep you cooler. Also, light-colored clothing will help to reflect the sun's rays.

4. Avoid midday sun

Try to exercise in the morning or evening when the temperature is usually cooler.

5. Wear sunscreen

Having a sunburn interferes with your body's ability to cool itself.

The most important thing you can do is listen to your body. If you are not feeling well, stop exercising. Participating in outdoor summer activities can be fun and safe and by following a few safety precautions, you can help prevent a heat-related illness.

Valerie Rankin has been working in the fitness industry since 1998. She has a bachelor's degree in health education and fitness promotion. Currently, she is the group exercise director at the YMCA, where she manages and instructs fitness classes.

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