It’s Hot Out There: Tips for Exercising Anyway

Here's how I work out year-round, including the summer heat.

woman kayaking

I love summer’s long days. And I’d rather be hot than cold. But sometimes it’s so hot and so humid that exercising outside isn’t as fun or healthy as it is during the spring, fall, and even winter.

Still, there are ways to exercise in the summer and still enjoy yourself.

Get up really early

I’m not a morning person so I usually hate when people make the suggestion to just get up early to fit in a workout. During the winter, you have to brave the cold and dark just to exercise in the early a.m. I should know because I did it once.

Early mornings in the summer can be much different though. The sky starts to lighten up around 6 a.m. so you can see the sunrise and morning light start to filter through trees while you run, walk, or even ride a bike. One of my favorite rides started at 6 a.m. on a Saturday morning, which was marked by low traffic and a beautiful stillness in the countryside. (Note that I use bright reflective clothing along with flashing lights for safety reasons).

Not only do you typically beat the heat by exercising early in the morning, you’ll typically miss sun exposure along with rain and lightning from afternoon and early evening thunderstorms.

Take it easy while you are getting used to the heat

If you haven’t exercised all winter or much in the heat of the summer for that matter, don’t start with a 10-mile run or 50-mile bike ride. Slowly, become accustomed to the heat (and the fitness workload).

Just like your body can acclimate to altitude, your body can become acclimated to exercising in the heat. There’s even scientific research that indicates there are physiological changes that allow most people to tolerate heat more effectively after a period of exposure.

Generally, being fit (even if you gained fitness by working out in cold weather) helps the acclimation process whereas “excess dietary water and electrolytes do not speed the process of heat acclimatization.” Though some people can’t tolerate the heat, most people become acclimated to the heat in about 14 days or 5-7 workout sessions.

Don’t expect your performance to be perfect

I exercise during the winter months so I’ll be strong over the summer. But the heat can still degrade my performance.

Rather than fight the heat, accept that your results may not be as great as when temperatures are more moderate. A slower-than-usual run doesn’t mean that you are not as fit as you were in the spring, just that it’s hot out there. (Typically your brain slows down your pace to keep you safe).

Plan breaks but don’t linger in your breaks

If I am exercising in the heat, I may need to stop and drink some water. Staying hydrated is important but stopping for too long can be counterproductive.

For example, on really long bike rides, stopping for 15-20 minutes every hour or so on a 45-mile bike ride can mean that I’ll be in the heat for a long time. I might start at 8 a.m. with the goal of being finished by 11 a.m. But if I stop and get water a few times, I might not get back until closer to noon. The more breaks I take, the longer I exercise in the heat, the more my performance degrades, the longer it takes overall, and so on.

On the other hand, if I don’t get something to drink, then my performance can also degrade because I’m not fully hydrated. So, it makes sense to take small, quick breaks but not ones that leave me outside for a long period of time.

Be creative with sun protection

Sunscreen is great but not the only way to protect yourself from the sun during the summer months.

When I first started looking at sun protective clothing a few years ago, I found the look unappealing. Since then, though, clothing in this category has become much more fashionable. I’ve found t-shirts, cycling jerseys, shorts, and more with protective fabrics. Search for UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factors) ratings of 30, 50, or more; or look at product descriptions to see if clothes have sun protective features.

I also use nature’s sun protection. I may run in shaded areas for example or later in the day when the sun is low in the sky.

Finally, if you do get out when the sun is bright, carry small bottles or sunscreen wipes with you on extended workouts.

Go out in the evening while there is still light

One of the most pleasant times to exercise is in the evening, after the heat of the day (which often extends to 5 p.m. or later) but before darkness falls.

Stay hydrated

Specific hydration needs vary from person to person based on factors such as your body weight, amount you sweat, and the electrolyte content of your sweat.

The American College of Exercise Science has put together a position statement with recommendations for pre-exercise, exercise, and post-exercise hydration.

In general, make sure you are drinking enough water and consuming enough fluids. Before exercise, consider pre-hydrating (but not over-hydrating); the idea is to begin your workout or competition at a normal state, not with a deficiency. During exercise, replace sweat loss with drinks that may include electrolytes and carbohydrates. After exercise, address any fluid and electrolyte deficits.

I think it’s helpful to know the signs of heat-related illness, which include

  • heat cramps: excess sweating, thirst, fatigue, and cramps
  • heat exhaustion: headache, lightheadedness, nausea, skin that feels cool and moist, and cramps
  • heat stroke: high body temperature, lack of sweating, nausea and vomiting, flushed skin, rapid breathing, racing heart rate, confusion, headache, confusion, and unconsciousness.

The signs of heat-related problems that I have seen most often are muscle cramps, lightheadedness, confusion, and fast heart rate (that stays fast even when exertion has stopped). Even if you feel fine, a companion may have problems if they haven’t taken precautions. Watch out for friends to make sure they’re okay also.

I get outside during the winter, though I also use the long nights and cold days during this season as a time for rest. I’m sure there’s deeper meaning here but the change in seasons reminds me of what King Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes 3:1-3 (World English Bible): “For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up.”

Summer is a great time to get outdoors despite the heat. I like to take advantage of all the extra hours of daylight to have fun and build endurance.

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