Written by Lorel Studer
Y’all, July was hot. August may cool down a bit, but the Farmer's Almanac predicted our summer to be “oppressive, showery, thundery”. EEEyuck! So far, the farmers are spot on.
Oppressive heat makes it hard to enjoy our summer activities, much less to work outside. Lawn care and gardening often turn into arduous chores rather than providing some self-sustaining enjoyment. But what about exercising in the heat? How do our bodies respond?
There’s lots of discussion about heat acclimatization. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) a division of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) defines acclimatization in regard to safe outside working environments as, “the beneficial physiological adaptation that occurs during repeated exposure to a hot environment. Hot is a relative term, but upon some investigation, I found that it is still a relative term. Basically, “hot” is an unusually high temperature for an environment or region. However, the benefits include:
Increased sweating efficiency (leading to earlier onset of sweating, greater sweat production, and reduced electrolyte loss in sweat)
Stabilization of the vascular circulation
The ability to perform work with lower core temperature and heart rate
Increased skin blood flow at a given core temperature” (NIOSH, 2018)
Heathcote et al, states that it takes approximately 6-7 heat exposures to become acclimated (2018). Heat exposure is relative, right? Are you working outside or exercising for an hour outside? Either way, this sounds like a process. Take it one day at a time and practice listening to your body.
The Journal of Physiology also discusses working out in hot environments. Minson and Cotter declare that acclimatization (hot climate or artificially hot environment) “elicit greater cardiovascular and thermoregulatory adaptions than those obtained in temperate conditions. These benefits include adaptive properties such as:
Expansion in plasma volume
Vascular function and structure
Cardiac muscle stretching and pumping activity lead to improved cardiac output
Metabolic efficiency of skeletal muscle
Thermoregulatory improvements” (2015)
Ok. So, there’s some information to support working out on purpose in the heat. But what about the problems? Isn’t dehydration a concern? Heat exhaustion? Is that real? And doesn’t it just sound miserable? Raise your hand if you're perimenopausal.
Hi, that’s me. 🙋🏼♀️
In a 2020 online article, the Mayo Clinic, answers the question, “Is it safe?” What the author encourages is to get acclimated (see above), drink plenty of fluids, be aware of the temperature and your own fitness level, wear lightweight and colored clothing, avoid the midday sun, and know your medical risks. Weiss also describes the symptoms of overheating. They are:
A body temp of over 104
Nausea or vomiting
Fainting or dizziness
If you experience these symptoms, get out of the heat and drink fluids. If you are not improving within 20 minutes seek medical attention.
So, there it is. It seems that exercising in the heat can be beneficial. Again, you have to know your body, your limitations and have some knowledge about how the heat can stress the body, too. To learn more about purposefully, physically, and physiologically stressing the body, I recommend reading The Comfort Crisis by Michael Easter. It is a fascinating collection of practices from different cultures that describe how different folks level up and sharpen their physical, mental, and emotional resilience.