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Heat Advisory.... So Be Careful!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

This week, on the days I can swim I've been swimming, but if I can't swim I haven't been exercising much because it is just too hot for me. This morning when I woke up it had already hit 85 F with a heat index of 101; It hit a high of 97 and I don't know what the heat index (and I really don't want to know). Tomorrow it's supposed to hit raw temperature of 101 and some absurdly high heat index. Sometimes discretion is the better part of valor.

Today, I read this spark article about working out in the heat:

The article has a lot of really good advice. We exercise because it's good for us, but if we aren't careful exercising when it's really hot out we can actually hurt ourselves.

"Heat exhaustion can occur when your body gets too hot, resulting in physical symptoms like weakness, muscle cramps, dehydration, dizziness, confusion, rapid heart rate and headache. Staying hydrated and getting out of the heat can help prevent and treat heat exhaustion. If left untreated, heat illness can worsen, causing symptoms like confusion, unconsciousness, vomiting, troubling breathing, and skin that feels hot and dry (a sign that the body isn't sweating). These are signs of heat stroke, which is deadly and requires immediate medical attention. "

I'm apparently one of those people who is, unfortunately, particularly susceptible to heat. Through K-12 I had at least 4 instances of heat exhaustion--I passed out at least once though it wasn't a true case of heat stroke; the other times I just got weak, nauseous, a headache, dizziness, disorientation (confusion?)... pretty much everything but the muscle cramps, which I have never gotten, and possibly rapid heart beat (if I had that, I never noticed). Since graduating high school, I've had problems with the heat numerous times though most of the time I was able to do something about it before it became a serious problem.

The first time it happened I was about 5 or 6 and playing baseball and didn't know what was happening; I just didn't feel good and got to the point where I couldn't even stand. I had to be carried back bu the adults. As a teen, I mostly had problems with heat during marching band. Apparently, I had more problems with heat than most of the other marchers and I had a hard time getting enough fluids--and the adult supervisors got mad at us if we left formation early, even to get a drink. The other 3 instances of heat exhaustion were all during parades. The first was also the most spectacular, and also the scariest. It was a really hot day and the parade got delayed for hours, leaving us waiting in a parking lot with no shade and no water wearing hot wool uniforms. Our teacher tried to move us to find shade and water--I remember a funeral home chasing us off their property. But by the time the parade started and our water van caught back up with us, it was too little, too late. I keeled over in that one--again, as happened when I was a child, I had to be carried out, this time to the van where they removed my jacket and my shoes and fed me pretzels and water.

As an adult, it continues to be something I have to watch out for, but as long as I am really careful about getting enough to drink I've been alright. The only time I had a serious problem before this year was when we were at an out of state SCA event that had no potable water on site--and we hadn't known to bring anything to drink. Thankfully, SCA folk tend to look after each other and a near by merchant realized I was badly dehydrated and gave me some juice or something from her cooler. We then went off site once I was feeling better to get some beverages.

Since I started fencing, I have been very careful about drinking water--it is surprisingly easy to forget to drink water when fighting because the adrenaline rush makes you not realize that you are thirsty. But part of SCA culture is that even if you forget, there are a lot of other people looking out for you who remind you, and I make a real effort to get enough to drink. I did learn a valuable lesson, though this year at Border Wars. At most events, they provide Gatorade as well as water, but at Border Wars I was just drinking water, even though Gatorade was provided. They also had pickles and orange slices available, but I didn't help myself. Apparently, even though I drank a lot of water, it wasn't enough. Thankfully, I was talking to a friend when it hit--it was like hitting a wall where at one point I'm hot and thirsty--I was heading back for more water--but basically fine and the next I was very much NOT fine. I felt nauseous and light headed and completely disoriented--it's a scary feeling, because even though I knew what was happening I couldn't think well enough to find a solution. She said I turned white. Next thing I know she's booting fencers out of the shade so I can sit down, hands me a glass of Gatorade and some pickles and some water.

According to the article I linked above, if you are exercising for more than an hour, they recommend drinking some kind of sports drink with electrolytes. We tend to think of salt as being bad for us, because Americans tend to consume entirely too much salt. But salt is an essential part of our diet--our bodies need salt. And when we sweat, we lose that salt, and if we sweat a lot, it has to be replaced. I knew that--if for no other reason than every time I got treated for being heat-sick I was given pretzels or saltines or the like--but I hadn't realized that it could happen that quickly. I had fenced almost 2 hours; I had drunk lots of water, but I hadn't replaced any salt.

Anyway, moral of the story--

1) Take the heat seriously. It doesn't mean necessarily turtle up at home though for me, if the temperatures get into the 90's, certainly above 95, I am very careful about my exercise. And if I decide it's too hot to exercise, no guilt is allowed. I've had too many experiences the other way to feel guilty about it. And sometimes if it's humid, even if you drink plenty of water it can not be enough because your sweat isn't cooling the body effectively. So have fun, and enjoy the summer, but enjoy it while being smart.

2) Hydrate Hydrate Hydrate... but don't forget the salt if it's needed.

3) Pay attention to your body. Don't let it get to the point where you are swaying on your feet and you have a friend pushing you into the shade and shoving water and pickles into your hands. And especially don't let it get to the point where you need serious medical treatment.

4) Oh, and if you have kids or are around kids, pay close attention to their body language. It never occurred to me when I was 6 to say something to the adults--part of the problem with heat exhaustion is that it makes your brain really fuzzy, so you can't think. At first I didn't say anything because I wanted to play ball and didn't want to be a party pooper; later I didn't say anything because I couldn't think enough to know that I should.
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    Great information, Zanna! Thank you so much for this. You're absolutely right, we tend to think that salt is all bad, but it's very, very necessary to our bodies. When I was training for endurance running events, our coaches actually told us to snag handfuls of the salt packets at fast food places, and use them during our long runs, especially when it was really hot and humid. Just using the straight-up salt would help stave of the bad effects of all the sweating we were doing.
    3478 days ago
    Great blog, I think I'm overly heat sensitive as well.
    3478 days ago
    I think it is awesome that you know your body and know how and when to push and pull it!!

    3478 days ago
    Something of which we all should be aware! This heatwave is crazy. I'm so glad the gym finally opened up and we can choose to use that instead of hiking in the heat. Swimming is a great option, but USE SUNSCREEN if you're outside!!
    3478 days ago
    3479 days ago
    Great advice! emoticon emoticon
    3479 days ago
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