Stay safe while exercising in summer heat: Tips from a Swedish sports doc

[5 min read]

In this article: 

  • During warm weather exercise, proper hydration is vital. 

  •  A change in demeanor can signal critical heat illness; if this occurs bring the person to the nearest ER as soon as possible. 

  • Don't forget your sunscreen. Don’t let an overzealous workout or forgetting to protect your skin cause you to lose precious summer moments. 

Summer is here and we want to get outside! Whether we're a weekend warrior or seasoned athlete, it's important to keep safety in mind as temperatures rise. We spoke with Swedish sports doc Ronan Cahill, M.D. for some advice to keep our warm weather fitness routines safe and enjoyable.  

What are 5 tips you have for working out safely in the heat? 
1. Timing.  make sure to avoid the hottest period of the day, typically from about 12 to 4 pm.  
2. Hydration. Drink plenty of fluids before, during and after activity. For short workouts of less than 60 minutes, water is great. If you are going longer consider a dilute sports drink. Gauge your hydration by the color of your urine – clear or very light yellow represents good hydration. Anything darker means that your hydration is lacking. 
3. Choose your activity well. Sports that generate their own wind (cycling, skating or other wheel-based activity) are often better tolerated in the heat. Static activities like lifting and High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workouts tend to be more challenging in the heat. 
4. Acclimation. The highest risks come at the start of hot weather. You should not simply go from cold weather routines to completing the same workouts in heat. Rather, shorten your workout; slowly start to build and soon you can be back to your regular routine with less risk. 
5. Be aware of humidity.  Our summers are often quite dry but we do get some humid days.  A humid day will feel much hotter than a dry one and make you reach your limit a bit sooner. 
Are there foods you recommend that can help us prepare for warm-weather exercise? 
Nothing specific, but this is the time of year when looking for foods that are more easily digestible, with higher water content can certainly be welcome.  Fruits, melons, berries, and whole grains can be a more significant part of your diet.  I would avoid heavier and fattier meals, especially anywhere close to a workout.  

What if we overdo it? What are some recovery methods? 
Unfortunately, nothing can short an honest recovery.  However, if you do overheat here are some recommendations for cooling off: 
•    Ice, water bath 
•    Fans 
•    Cool/damp towels and a fan 
If at any point someone starts acting confused or not themselves then get them to the ER as quickly as possible. There are different levels of heat illness but a change in someone’s demeanor is a critical sign, and means they need medical attention right away. 

Are there any exercises you recommend we stay away from in warm weather? 
Activities at highest risk are ones that are inside, in poorly ventilated areas where the inside temperature can be significantly higher than the temperature outside.  

What are some of your warm weather gear recommendations? 
•    Breathable sun-protection!  Avoid heavy cotton, non-breathable nylon and go with some of the great new materials that are light, breathable and offer good sun protection. 
•    A light hat and a good pair of sunglasses can help make those summer workouts more enjoyable as well.  
•    And don’t forget the sunscreen! Anything with an SPF of 30 or more is great and make sure to reapply frequently (every 1-2 hours) if you are sweating or out on the water. We wait all winter for this glorious but short summer stretch. Don’t let an overzealous workout or forgetting to protect your skin cause you to lose precious summer moments. 


Learn more and find a provider

If you have concerns about your health or it’s time for a check-up, it’s important to see a primary care provider. Whether you require an in-person visit or want to consult a doctor virtually, you have options.

Swedish Virtual Care connects you face-to-face with a nurse practitioner who can review your symptoms, provide instruction and follow up as needed. If you need to find a doctor, you can use our provider directory.

Join our Patient and Family Advisory Council.

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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional’s instructions.


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About the Author

Whether you're interested in physical fitness, an athlete looking for performance tips, or it's time for a full or partial replacement of knees, shoulders or hips, the Swedish Orthopedics and Sports Medicine Team is committed to providing you with expert advice on how to prevent injury, plan for physical activity and recover from orthopedic procedures. Our mission is to help you live the active lifestyle you want.

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