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Exercising in the Heat

Read this before you hit the streets on a hot day.

So I woke up this morning for my run, headed out the door... and ran smack into a wall of 80-degree heat, with 90 percent humidity. At 6 a.m.? Really? Really. Exercising in the heat is a challenge, but it's also a potential health risk if you're not smart about it. Check out these tips, courtesy of our friends over at New York Road Runners:

Respect your limits. Heat and humidity increase the physical challenge of running, and health problems can occur when you push beyond what your body can handle. Do not aim for a personal best on a warm, sticky day, particularly if you are not used to such conditions.

Acclimate. It takes 10 days to two weeks for the body to acclimate to keeping cool at higher temperatures. Give your body time to adjust.

Know the signs of heat problems. If you feel faint, dizzy, disoriented, or your skin is clammy and abnormally hot or cold, slow down or stop running. If symptoms continue, sit or lie down in the shade and seek medical help.

Drink enough. Drink throughout the day, so that your urine remains plentiful and pale yellow. Even mild dehydration (scant, dark-yellow urine) will make you feel sluggish and tire early during exercise, and can increase the risk of heat-related problems during exercise. In the heat, sports drinks are even better than water because the sugar and salt they contain form an "active pump" that transports fluid to cells more quickly than water alone. Before workouts lasting longer than one hour in the heat, drink 16 ounces of fluid several hours in advance, another 16 ounces in the hour before, and more just before the start if your urine isn't pale.

Don't drink too much. Overhydrating before and during exercise can cause a dangerous condition known as hyponatremia (water intoxication). This drop in the body's sodium levels can cause nausea, fatigue, vomiting, weakness, and in the most severe cases, seizures, coma, and death. To avoid hyponatremia, do not overdrink, include pretzels or a salted bagel in your pre-run meal, and use a sports drink that contains sodium. During exercise, drink no more than a cup of fluid every 15 to 20 minutes.

Protect yourself from the sun. Wear a cap or visor to shield your head, face, and eyes from the sun’s burning rays, and wear sunglasses to protect your eyes. Use sunscreen on exposed skin, even on overcast days.

Check your meds. Do not consume products like cold medicines, ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, or anti-diarrhea medicines with dehydrating agents in them. They may increase your risk for heat illness. Caffeine products are only OK in doses you are used to taking on training day. Do not start taking a caffeine product on race day.

Wear synthetic fabrics. Unlike cotton, synthetics wick moisture from your skin so cooling evaporation can occur. Synthetics also decrease chafing and don't cling and cause a chill. Look for loose-fitting garments with mesh inserts under the arms, on the sides of the torso, down the arms, and on the outer thighs. Acrylic socks keep feet dry and cool.

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