Summertime in Western Colorado offers some of the best outside adventure in the world, whether it is cycling across desert slick rock or rafting raging rivers, hiking remote trails or golfing groomed links, we are blessed with an abundance of terrain that lures folks of all ages to the great outdoors. But the summer heat can cause serious problems if you don’t use caution and it’s easy to get over-heated before you realize you are in real trouble. If you want to both increase your performance and avoid heat related illness then try these tips when working or playing in the heat.
When the ambient temperature rises above about 84 degrees, humans can no longer get rid of excess heat by simply radiating heat to the surrounding air. At this point our evaporative cooling system, known as sweating, kicks in. As the liquid sweat evaporates from the skin, heat is rapidly removed from the body. In our dry desert climate removing heat by sweating works quite well, and when combined with some shade, or a breeze, one can stay cool in extreme arid conditions.
With any activity heat naturally builds in the active muscle until core body temperature starts to rise and eventually muscle systems slow down or even shut down when the internal temperature gets too high. Extreme activity such as hill climbs on a bike or sprinting during a game of tennis can increase the body temperature very quickly.
Heat cramps occur when the body begins to overheat, and if not addressed is followed by heat exhaustion with symptoms of nausea, excessive sweating and feeling faint. Heatstroke happens when the body temperature reaches about 104 degrees and presents with confusion, exhaustion and absence of sweating. Heatstroke is an emergency and if not treated promptly can damage the brain, heart, kidneys and muscles, or even cause death.
Keep it Cool
The first, and most obvious way to avoid heat related illness and improve physical performance in the heat is to stay well hydrated. One liter of fluid per hour is about as much as we can absorb through the gut, so that is about the maximum amount one should drink per hour. Plain water is just fine but with more extensive sweating the addition of some salt and sugar helps replenish salt lost in sweat and increase the absorption of the water.
A simple hydration solution can be made by mixing one liter or quart of water with 1-2 Tbs sugar and 1/4 to 1/2 tsp salt. You can also add a few scoops of protein powder to kick it up a notch and help provide nutrients for rebuilding muscle. Hydration drinks such as Gatorade and many others are ok… but they typically contain quite a bit more sugar and other weird stuff like artificial flavoring and coloring.
Bright Colorado sunshine is something outdoor enthusiasts dig on and is yet another culprit in heat related illness. The more you can keep the sun from directly striking your bare skin, the more radiant heat you will avoid. Avoiding sunburn is especially important, as the burn itself causes inflammation and becomes another source of heat.
Treat heat related illnesses by cooling the body however possible. Getting into the shade, resting and hydration are the first simple priorities. Wetting down the skin or clothing and allowing it to dry repeatedly is great for pulling heat from the body. Fanning the skin can speed up this cooling technique. Applying cool packs or wet cloths to vascular areas such as the neck, armpits and groin is another cooling method. Bathing or running hands and feet in cool water will lower body temperature quickly.
To avoid heat related illness in the first place, wear sun blocking clothing as able, cover bare skin with sunblock, stay hydrated and pace yourself being aware of heat build up. If you can, avoid working or playing in the extremes of the midday sun and heat. Wet down your shirt or hat repeatedly to add more evaporative cooling. Rest, preferably in a breezy or shady spot, before getting too hot. Above all, play hard and stay cool.
Scott Rollins, MD, is Board Certified with the American Board of Family Practice and the American Board of Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine. He specializes in bioidentical hormone replacement for men and women, thyroid and adrenal disorders, fibromyalgia and other complex medical conditions. He is founder and medical director of the Integrative Medicine Center of Western Colorado (www.imcwc.com) and Bellezza Laser Aesthetics (www.bellezzalaser.com). Call (970) 245-6911 for an appointment or more information.