Can it actually be unhealthy to run in extreme heat?
Not sure about your neighborhood, but it seems like heat waves have been happening over most of the US recently. This raises the question, when is it too hot to workout outside versus in a gym? One of the best parts about summer is getting out into the sunshine and performing some sweat breaking moves, but can it actually be unhealthy to do this when the temperatures are in the high double or even triple digits?
In short, the answer is that there is no definitively specific temperature that crosses into unhealthy territory. (I mean hot yoga exists, right?) Going for a run in 100 degree heat can definitely effect your body differently than running in the high 70’s, though. There are specific things you should be doing to avoid injury or overheating.
This seems obvious, but if you’re planning on expending serious energy in extreme heat, you should be drinking even more water than normal. Drink a large glass of lukewarm water about 20 minutes before you start to pound the pavement. Lukewarm enters the bloodstream more quickly. Also, if possible, carry water with you because you’ll be sweating out the majority of that preparatory glass almost immediately after you start.
It’s easy to feel like, since it’s so hot, warming up your muscles can be avoided. This is a huge mistake. Still go through your warmup exercises like you would if it were 30 degrees outside. This will acclimate your muscles to the weather. One of the easiest ways to injure yourself in extreme heat is by failing to warm up and letting your body feel like it’s looser than it is because of the external heat. This then makes you feel like you can push yourself harder than you probably should and leads to injuries like pulled muscles or twisted joints.
The heat is going to make you feel loose and ready. You need to take it a bit easy so as to not overdo it. Don’t push yourself harder because of the heat. Pull back your effort just a bit and try to extend the run for an extra few minutes to make up for it. Pushing your body to its limits in high heats can lead to exhaustion or fainting, which is exactly what you don’t want when you’re out on a run by yourself someplace remote.
Although it may seem counterintuitive, when the sun is at it’s hottest, covering your body with layers will keep you cooler than exposing yourself to the sun’s rays. Wear a hat that covers your head and shields your face and neck from the sun. Put on a moisture wicking shirt that will expel sweat as opposed to running shirtless. If you’re someone who runs with tights, really be sure to take it easy as your legs are going to have a lot of heat packed into the muscles and will fatigue or overexert easily.
Avoid High Noon
Running when the sun is its hottest is dangerous during these extreme heat conditions. Hit the road in the morning or the evening when the temperatures are at least a bit cooler. Going at noon is going to suck your energy and drain you of vital nutrients, so if you do go out at this time, be sure to replenish bountifully.
Go beyond your normal protein shake after the workout is over. Be sure to drink a LOT of water, protein, as well as carbohydrates. Pack in an entire meal in addition to your protein shake so as to avoid feeling overheated, exhausted, or sick to your stomach. You might be able to get away with just a banana and some coffee in the fall, but when the heat is this high, you’ll want to take extra precautions to avoid making yourself sick.
As always, just be smart. If you have access to a gym, maybe consider jumping on the treadmill or doing a HIIT workout as opposed to running outside. If you think you have what it takes, don’t overdo it and act tough. Take care of your body so you don’t end up putting yourself out of commission thanks to one proud mistake.