*** Find out the latest research of how to avoid heat exhaustion when exercising in very hot weather.
How to exercise in extreme hot weather
From Denny: Say what, drink a sugar syrup iced slushie? I get to eat bad while I exercise? Sounds intriguing. Talk about the best of both worlds. Exercise workouts can be demanding enough but when it's a really hot day - like this summer when the temps poke up well above 95 degrees plus a heat index adding another ten degrees of misery - well, exercising seems to fall by the wayside. Worse, when you do exercise it feels like you are sloshing through mud. An easy workout now becomes grueling. Why is that? What ever happened to my endurance?
How does the body cool itself?
Here's what happens - and how your body reacts - when the temperatures rise into the stratosphere on that hot summer day. To cool itself the body directs blood to the skin. When that happens it means the blood is diverted away from working muscles. So, as the weather gets hotter and if you try to do hard exercise, the more difficult that exercise becomes. You soon figure out to slow down considerably or just stop exercising.
Why do we slow down when exercising in hot weather?
There is some debate as to why this happens. Some physiologists think it is because the muscles are starved for blood because too much of it left the neighborhood to go cool the skin. Others speculate that the heart is unable to beat fast enough to meet the demand of hard exercise because not enough blood is available for the project. More speculation wonders if the brain itself gets too hot.
How to delay heat exhaustion in hot weather
While knowing the exact reason as to why it is difficult to do hard exercise in very hot weather, researchers have found a way to delay how much time it takes before you collapse into utter exhaustion. The solution is simple: get people chilled down quite a bit before they start.
How world class athletes cope with hot weather exercise
Researchers have experimented with world class athletes whose conditioning is superb yet still suffer from the heat just like the rest of us. They have tried wearing cooling vests before exercise. They have tried out portable cold baths to immerse the athlete before a race. Athletes have been advised to swim in cold water for an hour, sit in a cold room or stand in a cold shower. The whole point is to create a cooling effect before the exercise. Unfortunately, too many of these methods are terribly practical, not always easy or even inexpensive - certainly for the average weekend athlete.
New Zealand Ironman athlete researcher came up with easy solution
Leave it to the Kiwis to figure out the obvious for the rest of us. A New Zealand endurance athlete, Dr. Paul Laursen, who is also an exercise researcher, claims his easy method works. Just drink a sugary ice slushie before you start that hard exercise. His study reports that when his young male recreational athletes drank a sugary slushie just before they ran on a treadmill in a very hot room they were able to keep exercising for an average of 50 minutes before they had to stop. He tried having them drink only a syrup-flavored cold water but the results were not quite as good: they could only run for an average of 40 minutes.
Research testing indoors versus outdoors results
This test was conducted indoors so there was no cooling effect possible from breezes on the skin. So, we could reasonably assume that any efforts of cooling down the body before exercise would have a more dramatic effect than if the test was conducted outdoors. What racing athletes are looking for is to be able to go faster as opposed to the endurance factor of running until they drop. Most athletes run for speed not a marathon distance. This study researched more for endurance as opposed to performance.
The indoors versus the outdoors aside, exercise specialists found the cooling effect prior to exercise to be dramatic. "It’s a really interesting study, well done and carefully thought out," said Craig Crandell, an exercise physiologist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. He studies the results of exercising in the heat.
Ironman triathlon and pre-cooling effect
Of course, the marathon athletes just had to weigh in and declare the pre-cooling effects to be short-lived. Dr. Paul Laursen, from the New Zealand Academy of Sport, has competed in 13 Ironman triatholons. A triatholon involves a 2.4 mile swim, then followed by a 112-mile bike race that is then followed by 26.2 mile marathon run. So, you can see why this Ironman athlete says the pre-cooling effect would not last long enough to be useful for his sport.
Pre-cooling effect great for other sports
What he does say is that this pre-cooling effect is a great idea for other sports like tennis, a short race like for 5 or 10 kilometers, team sports like soccer and football. Dr. Laursen believes this cooling idea would be effective for the first 50 minutes or so for a long distance athlete because it would help them beat the heat at least for awhile.
How Laursen came up with the slushie idea
Dr. Laursen said he came up with the slushie drink idea because he knew they could lower brain temperature in swine better than just cold water. Would it work on humans? Those swine studies were tests to cool the body before surgery. Laursen wondered if the slushies could cool the brain before surgery, could it also cool the brain before hard exercise in hot weather? He soon found out that the slushies, because they contain sugary water swirled into the crushed ice, were actually colder than ice.
"It’s a neat idea," said Scott Montain, an exercise researcher at the United States Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine in Natick, Mass. "I wouldn’t have guessed slurries would have that much of an effect."
Ideas as to why the slushie idea works so well
Dr. Laursen is still not clear as to why the slushie idea works so well. In a review article he wrote, "The mechanisms underlying the performance effects associated with pre-cooling are not yet completely understood." Laursen speculates why slushies work is because they lower body temperatures before the athlete races. This allows the athletes a bit longer time before their bodies enter the critically hot zone.
Dr. Montain said that may not be the reason since the men in the study did not get that level of critically hot. Apparently, once exhaustion hit, the mean body temperature of both groups - those who drank the slushie and those who drank cold water - was only 101 degrees.
Dr. Montain wonders if the men's heart rates might be a limiting factor. He said that in both groups the exhaustion happened when their heart rates reached about 185 beats per minute. The slushie drinkers hit that heart rate about 10 minutes later than the cold water drinkers. He said that the heart works hard by beating faster and faster to get the blood to the skin to cool the body, doubling its efforts to the muscles for the hard exercise - until finally it just can't keep up.
"The heart can’t send blood everywhere without the blood pressure falling. At some point, you can’t maintain your blood pressure," Dr. Montain said.
How people living in adverse hot environments learned to stay cool when exercising in the heat
Dr. Montain lives in New England where the weather is not quite as challenging as where I live. People here have figured out ways to stay cool for centuries in this environment in Bayou country. Since this writer lives in hot and humid south Louisiana my solution has always been a similar solution as this researcher found.
If the heat and the heat index is under 90 degrees then I tank up with about three glasses of iced water before I go out to work in the yard - even when I'm in the shade. I keep several glasses of ice water in a thermos and drink every 15 minutes.
When the weather is worse, like above 95 degrees with a 110 heat index - and I simply must go out and work in the heat and can't avoid it - then I add hard candy to the mix. I find that sugar is actually helpful for maintaining your blood sugar level in very high heat situations.
And another trick when out in the heat exercising? Soak a small towel or washcloth in cool water and then wrap it around several ice cubes. Hang it around the back of your neck to cool your brain - the old animal brain that regulates body heat. Works like a charm, especially if you are out mowing the lawn. By keeping your brain cooled you stay much cooler in general and are not so exhausted when you return indoors.
Just remember to beat the heat by first drinking your favorite slushie! Who knew exercising could taste so good?
*** Slushie photo by Gudlyf @ flickr
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To Beat the Heat, Drink a Slushie First