Ah, summer: the season of picnics, beach trips, barbecuesÃ¢â‚¬Â¦and dangerous heat waves. Every year, an average of 658 deaths nationwide are caused by extreme heatÃ¢â‚¬”a deadly weather condition characterized by unusually hot temperatures that last for at least a few days. Sweltering sucks, but youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d better get used to it. Because of climate change, periods of extreme heat are expected to become much more common.
Heat-related deaths arenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t the only consequence of oppressive temps. Over the past decade, thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s been a substantial increase in the number of people treated for heat-induced conditions in emergency rooms, says Rebecca Noe, MPH, an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control. The most dangerous of these include heat exhaustion, which happens when thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a plunge in sodium levels due to excess sweating; and heatstroke, which occurs when you get so hot, your body can no longer cool itself down without medical intervention.
YouÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d think that with cold drinks and AC available pretty much everywhere, extreme heat isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t something that should be on your radar. But it needs to beÃ¢â‚¬”particularly if you work out outdoors. It can take just minutes for your body to become seriously overheated even if youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re only being moderately active; and this can set you up for heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
If you canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t bear the thought of working out in a gym, cut your heat-related illness odds by taking a few precautions, such as getting your sweat on early in the a.m. or closer to dusk, when temps are cooler. Wear loose clothes, and switch to cooler activities, such as swimming or hiking in the mountains, says Noe. And of course, swill lots of liquids while you're being active or working out outsideÃ¢â‚¬”about two to four eight-ounce cups of water or another low-sugar, caffeine-free beverage per hourÃ¢â‚¬”whether youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re thirsty or not. Seem extreme? It's not really since you'll be sweating out that amount of liquid, says Noe, but staying hydrated and sipping consistently is what's importantÃ¢â‚¬”so you don't need to stress over the exact amount of water you're drinking.
And what if you donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t work out outdoors? You can still get overheatedÃ¢â‚¬”so you should be aware of the symptoms (for your sake and in case you spot them in friends). They include heavy sweating; feeling weak or faint; pale, clammy skin; rapid resting heart rate; or even nausea or vomiting. If you notice any of these, immediately loosen your clothes (or your friendÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s) and seek shade, cold water, and/or a blasting AC. If symptoms continue, head to the ERÃ¢â‚¬”heatstroke is a medical emergency.
The verdict: Heat-related health conditions caused by stretches of crazy-high temps are a concern for anyone who spends time outdoors or sans ACÃ¢â‚¬”but it can be extra dangerous if youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re exercising outside. In either case, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s smart to take a few precautions to stay as safe as possible.
More from Women's Health:
5 Tips for Running in the Heat
Heat Stroke (Hyperthermia)
The Safest Ways to Exercise in the Heat