How our endless summer heat can affect your health.

School is back in session in our area, marking the unofficial end of summer, but the summer weather is still with us. High temperatures and humidity make it feel like summer hasn’t ended. Aside from being unpleasant, these conditions can be dangerous for people who are active outdoors for work or exercise, something that is especially important for youth sports and other outdoor activities. This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

Hot weather

Exposure to high heat over time is associated with an increased risk of death, mostly among the elderly. Even isolated hot days can exacerbate cardiovascular and respiratory problems in children and adults. High temperatures are especially concerning for people who work outdoors and are at much higher risk of heat illness. Even people who spend limited time outdoors on hot days can become dehydrated and feel fatigued or unwell.

High temperatures are also associated with increased levels of pollution, especially in urban areas. Even in less populated areas, ground level ozone concentrations can become dangerously high, prompting recommendations to limit outdoor activity. Ozone is known to worsen respiratory illnesses like bronchitis and asthma as well as causing chest pain, coughing, throat irritation, and airway inflammation.

Athletes and other people who are active outdoors can be susceptible to heat illness. High heat and humidity make sweating less effective, so your body produces even more sweat. Losing lots of water through sweating can lead to dehydration. At the very least, you probably will feel fatigued but in more severe cases dizziness, low blood pressure, and fainting can occur.

The highest temperatures occur in the late afternoon or early evening, so right after school or work may not be the best time for outdoor activities. Unfortunately, this is the time that most practices and games for youth sports are held. Normally, the weather is cooler at this time of the year, making these events safer for the athletes and more enjoyable for spectators. Given the prolonged hot, humid weather we are experiencing, parents, coaches, and athletes must be even more careful to plan adequate hydration and rest around practices and games.

Here some common-sense guidelines to make exercise, work, and play outdoors in the prolonged summer heat safe and enjoyable for your entire family.

Drink plenty of fluids

As a general rule, a cup (8 oz.) of water every 15 minutes is sufficient for most people. Thirst is a good indicator of fluid needs, but you should take frequent breaks to rehydrate.

Take breaks

The longer you are active the hotter you will get and you may feel more fatigued because of the heat. Taking frequent breaks will give you a chance to rest, cool down, and get something to drink.

Seek out shade

Being in the sun means that you will feel even hotter because you gain heat from the sun’s rays. Spending as much time as you can in the shade will help you stay cool.

Pick cool clothes

Lighter colored clothing will reduce heat gain from the sun. Having more skin exposed and wearing synthetic fabrics that wick sweat from the skin can help keep you feel cooler, too.

Avoid the hottest times of the day

Try to plan your outdoor activity in the morning or evening to avoid the hottest times of the day.

While we can’t change the weather, taking these precautions can make participating in—and watching—sports and other activities in the high heat safer and more enjoyable.

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