Overcoming Heat Exhaustion from Exercise

We’ve all been told how an active lifestyle helps maintain physical and mental well-being, but it is important to avoid excessive exercise, especially in high temperatures. Whether you’re on your daily jog or playing your regular basketball pickup game with the guys, doing so in extremely hot temperatures may cause heat-related conditions such as heat exhaustion.

Working out in hot weather subjects the body to added stress. The humidity and air temperature will contribute to increased core body temperature. Your body responds by circulating more blood through your skin, leaving less blood available for circulation to your muscles, resulting in elevated heart rates. And because of the high humidity, perspiration will not evaporate as easily from your skin, pushing your body temperature to higher levels.

Unlike professional or well-trained athletes who have more developed thermoregulation systems in their bodies, people who work out regularly may not produce sweat as rapidly and may not be used to normal body core temperatures of nearly 40˚C. Even among professional athletes, there is at least a deterioration in performance when the body experiences high temperatures.

Exercise-related Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion, particularly exercise-related, is caused by elevated body temperatures beyond normal levels from exercise.

The brain normally maintains our body temperature within the range of 37˚C, give or take. This regulated temperature is essential for many body functions. Our body regulates its temperature through sweating. When sweat evaporates, the body’s temperature goes down. Also, when body temperatures increase, blood is circulated to the skin and limbs, including the head, allowing for more heat to escape. If the excess heat is unable to escape the body, this results in an increase in body temperature, causing us to feel dizzy or weak. This, in turn, hampers the heart from pumping enough blood, leading some people to collapse.

Heat exhaustion is not as serious as heat stroke, though if left untreated, heat exhaustion may ultimately result in heatstroke. When this happens, basic bodily functions shut down, causing severe problems, and is even fatal in some cases.

Causes of Exercise-related Heat Exhaustion

You may suffer from exercise-related heat exhaustion when your body loses its ability to eliminate the excess heat generated from working out, resulting in above-normal body temperatures. Dehydration is also a likelihood, especially when you have not had enough fluids.

Strenuous physical activity such as exercise or sports during hot and humid temperatures may cause heat exhaustion. Exercising outdoors on a hot day can cause heat exhaustion.

Several other factors contribute to the body’s inability to eliminate the excess heat, including:

  • Poor physical fitness
  • Infection
  • Alcohol intake
  • Obesity
  • Medications, especially antihistamines, stimulants, pharmacological therapy for epilepsy
  • Medical conditions such as sickle cell disease and other conditions causing diminished sweating
  • Chronic illnesses such as cancer and rheumatoid arthritis

Adults 65 years and older and young children are likewise susceptible to heat exhaustion. The reason for this is their bodies have not yet developed or have deteriorated body functions for natural cooling.

First Aid for Exercise-related Heat Exhaustion

When you start feeling weak or dizzy or about to faint from exercising or playing sports on a hot day, you should:

  • Stop the exercise and immediately move to a cooler, shaded area.
  • Raise your legs. Make sure your legs are at a level higher than your head.
  • Shed off extra clothing or sports gear.
  • Cool off by soaking in or spraying yourself with cold water until you shiver. You may also use a wet towel to dampen your body. You may also sit directly in front of a fan to cool off. Do this until your temperature goes down. You may measure your temperature using a regular thermometer, though these may not always be accurate, especially the oral types. Emergency personnel might use rectal thermometers upon response for better accuracy.
  • If you are alert enough and not nauseated, you should drink water or a sports drink that’s electrolyte-rich. If you are in a hospital facility, you might be given fluids intravenously.
  • Constantly monitor your blood pressure, breath rate, heart rate, and lucidity.
  • During sleep, when your body rests and recovers from the day’s activity, make sure your bedroom has regulated temperatures. Make sure your air conditioning or space heaters are not turned up too high or way down low. Many professional athletes also use sleep technology such as bed fans under the bed or sheets to cool down their normally high body temperatures.

Normally, you should observe an improvement within 60-120 minutes. If you don’t, it is best to go to the hospital emergency room.

Exercise-related heat exhaustion is a medical disorder resulting from elevated body temperatures due to strenuous physical exertion. When this happens, your body temperature goes up beyond normal thresholds. Symptoms of exercise-related heat exhaustion include dizziness, excessive sweating, muscle cramps, and nausea, among others. First aid treatment for exercise-related heat exhaustion entailed cooling down your body temperature and added fluid intake.

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