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Tips for exercising safely in a heat wave

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With the heat wave hanging over the East Coast, and now starting to move west across nation, here are some tips on how to improve your endurance and exercise safely amidst soaring temperatures.

Let’s start with the basics.  Pay attention to the peak daytime temperatures, humidity and even the air pollution/ozone alert warnings.  Perhaps consider staying indoors in lieu of the blast of hot, humid conditions.  

It is important to be aware that your body works less efficiently during extreme conditions.  If you have asthma, always keep your rescue inhaler medications on hand.  Take the time to review a written asthma action plan, and know some of the early warning signs.  

Be sure to stay hydrated by drinking adequate amounts of water and/or some low-sugar electrolyte drinks, for prolonged exercise.  Drink before, during and after exercise, and remember; don’t wait till you are thirsty to start the hydration process.  

Research shows that pre-cooling yourself by drinking cold water or using cool towels before you engage in physical activity on a hot day can actually help improve endurance and performance.

On hot days, dress in lightweight, breathable fabrics to allow absorption of sweat and perspiration.  Some athletes prefer loose-fitting workout clothing.  On a sunny day, try to seek out shady, cooler areas – especially during the cool down.

Never drink alcoholic beverages before exercising, as this will most certainly worsen dehydration, and eat lighter fare before vigorous exercise.

If at any point in time you have trouble breathing or feel dizzy, stop exercising immediately.  Heat cramps, exhaustion and stroke may occur when your body gets overheated. Symptoms may include lightheadedness, significant fatigue, nausea and/or confusion.  

Don’t exercise in direct sunlight without wearing a good, water-resistant sunscreen, lip balm, hat and a good pair of sunglasses (that will also help to block pollen from entering into your eyes).  

Always check with your health care provider when beginning an exercise program – and this is particularly important if you suffer from certain medical conditions such as heart disease or asthma.  

Dr. Clifford Bassett is an adult and pediatric allergy specialist, and diplomat of the American Board of Allergy and Immunology. He is the medical director of Allergy and Asthma Care of NY.  Bassett is a clinical assistant professor of medicine and on the teaching faculty of NYU School of Medicine and NYU Langone Medical Center and assistant clinical professor of Medicine and Otolaryngology at SUNY LICH. Follow him on Twitter.