by Michael S. Hooker, M.D., Riverside Orthopedic Specialists
As the weather heats up, so do our appetites for adventure. After months spending a little too much quality time with our sofas, summer seems like the perfect time to make up for all of that inactivity.
The problem with this plan is that many people jump right into intense physical activity without considering their current fitness level or limitations. The result? Injuries, heat-related illnesses and reuniting with that sofa quicker than you can say Independence Day.
Too Much, Too Soon
If you haven’t picked up a tennis racket in a year, running out the first weekend of summer to play five straight hours of singles can have serious consequences. Pumping up the duration of activities, intensity, or both without proper training can lead to a variety of injuries, including:
- muscle strains or tears such as hamstring strains
- ligament injuries such as ACL tears
- tendon injuries such as Achilles or Rotator cuff injuries
The Heat is On
Summer exercise also presents the serious risks of overheating, especially when undertaken by a novice athlete, an older adult (over 65), children under four, overweight individuals or individuals with a chronic illness such as heart disease. Overheating occurs when the body becomes unable to cool itself down, a task usually accomplished through the unpleasant but effective mechanism of sweating.
Signs of heat exhaustion include:
- Heavy sweating
- Muscle cramps
- Nausea or vomiting
Without medical attention, heat exhaustion may progress to heat stroke, an extremely serious heat-related illness that can lead to death. If you or someone with you exhibits any signs of a heat-related condition, take these steps to help reduce body temperature:
- Drink cool, nonalcoholic beverages
- Take a cool shower, bath, or sponge bath
- Seek an air-conditioned environment, if available, or shade
If you suspect heat stroke, contact emergency personnel immediately.
Cramping Your Style
Muscle cramps—often in the abdomen, arms or legs–are also common during the summer months, especially during strenuous activity…or when a NCAA football coach is out of time outs in a crucial game situation. More than just a painful excuse for your three strikeouts at the corporate softball league championship, cramps indicate that salt levels in your body are too low.
If you experience muscle cramps:
- Take a break from activity for a few minutes.
- Drink a beverage with sodium, like a sports drink.
- Avoid strenuous activity for the rest of the day. Further exertion could lead to heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
- Seek medical attention for heat cramps if they do not subside in 1 hour.
A Safe Plan for Summer Exercise
Now that you know what to look out for, exercise and physical activity should definitely be a part of your family’s summer plan. In general, the American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of activity most days of the week. Recreational and competitive athletes will probably exceed this benchmark. The key is to be smart about summer sweat sessions.
Here are some tips for a safe summer exercise plan:
- Start slow. Whether you are exercising for the first time or a seasoned pro, working out in hot and humid conditions is not a breeze. Adjust duration, intensity and expectations with the conditions in mind.
- Progress gradually. A simple rule of thumb is to increase either the duration, distance or intensity of a work out by 10%. For example, if you ran 5 miles with ease one weekend, add on another half mile OR run the same distance at a faster pace. Don’t increase all the variables of your work out at once or seek to make overwhelming gains overnight.
- Warm up and cool down. Perform a low to moderate intensity warm up prior to vigorous exercise. Take time for an adequate cool down, and save the stretching until after your work out is completed.
- Take hydration seriously. You’ve probably heard it before, but your body is already depleted of vital nutrients and liquids by the time you feel the sensation of thirst. Especially in the summer months and during vigorous activity, stay a step ahead of your thirst by drinking fluids consistently, rather than guzzling mid- or post-exercise.
The American College of Sports Medicine provides the following hydration guidelines:
- Drink 16-20 fluid ounces of water or sports beverage at least four hours before exercise.
- Drink 8-12 fluid ounces of water 10-15 minutes before exercise.
- Consuming a beverage with sodium and/or small meal helps to stimulate thirst and retain fluids.
- Drink 3-8 fluid ounces of water every 15- 20 minutes when exercising for less than 60 minutes.
- Drink 3-8 fluid ounces of a sports beverage (5-8 percent carbohydrate with electrolytes) every 15-20 minutes when exercising greater than 60 minutes. Do not drink more than one quart/hour during exercise.
- Obtain your body weight and check your urine color (light indicates well hydrated, darker indicates dehydration) to estimate your fluid losses. The goal is to correct your losses within two hours after exercise.
- Drink 20-24 fluid ounces of water or sports beverage for every one pound lost.
Cheers (with water, of course) to a healthy, active and safe summer!