Competitive athletes aren't the only ones who can experience problems when the mercury and humidity start to peak. Even if they're in excellent shape, weekend warriors may find themselves suffering heat-related symptoms after a long run or even a day of lawn mowing and yard work.
'People get out there and...do a really hard workout,' says Scott Anderson, a certified athletic trainer in Clearwater, Fla. 'The sensible thing is to go slow, and work up progressively. ...A lot of people even go indoors and cross-train if it's too hot.'
Not everyone has access to a climate-controlled gym, however. If your only option is to exercise outdoors despite the torrid weather, you can take some steps to avoid problems such as dehydration, cramping, heat exhaustion, and-because air quality gets worse on hot, muggy days-breathing trouble.
How heat and humidity take a toll
When your body gets overheated, its natural response is to sweat. And when that sweat evaporates off your skin, it lowers your body temperature.
But if the temperature or humidity is sky-high, this built-in cooling system can break down. Sweat doesn't evaporate properly because of all the moisture in the air, and your skin doesn't release body heat as effectively.
'You're still sweating, but it's not doing as much for your body temperature,' says Michael F. Bergeron, PhD, director of the National Institute for Athletic Health & Performance at the Sanford University of South Dakota Medical Center, in Sioux Falls.
As your body temperature climbs, lightheadedness, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, and muscle cramps can result. All of these are signs of heat exhaustion. And if you don't cool off quickly-by going into an air-conditioned building or drinking cold water, say-heat exhaustion can sometimes turn into heat stroke.
Heat stroke occurs when your body temperature hits 105Â°. The condition can cause problems in the muscles, kidneys, liver, brain, and heart, and people with heat stroke often start to breathe quickly and behave erratically, Bergeron notes. If they don't get medical help and bring their body temperature down, they may even have a seizure or slip into a coma.
In extreme cases heat stroke can be deadly. If you or someone you're with start to experience the symptoms of heat stroke, seek medical attention immediately or call 911.