Avoid heat-related illnesses with these 5 tips

Man drinking bottled water in sun

I used to be a pretty avid mountain biker before my kids came along, and while I had my share of spills and scrapes, I never had anything serious. The problem I had – and still have when working outside in the summer heat – is what I call a heat headache.

These intense headaches start at the back of my skull and creep up to sit just behind my eyeballs. They radiate throughout my head, and  thus far, the best way I have found to alleviate them is to go into an air conditioned room, drink plenty of water and have a sports drink. After a short time, I can usually get back out and finish off the yard work.

While the headaches are never bad enough to make me go see a doctor, they did make me curious about heat-related illnesses. Most people have heard of heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke, but what are they? I asked Dr. Phillip Rhoads from the Banner Health Center in Fort Collins if he would explain them to me, and this is what I gleaned from him.

  • Heat exhaustion is caused when the body loses a lot of fluids and salt through sweating. You usually see this when exercising in the summer.
  • Heat cramps are very similar to heat exhaustion, but occur when there is a loss of potassium and other minerals.
  • Heat stroke occurs when your body has been exposed to heat for long periods of time and has completely lost the ability to cool itself. It is a life-threatening condition and needs to be treated immediately.

When I was mountain biking frequently, I tried a lot of different things to keep from getting those heat headaches. Some worked, and many others didn’t. However, these five tips should help you avoid heat-related illnesses:

  1. Make sure to stay hydrated when you’re out exercising or working in the yard. Stick to water and sports drinks that can help replenish salt. You’ll want to stay away from coffee, tea and sodas, which contain caffeine and can dehydrate you.
  2. Schedule your vigorous outdoor activities during the cooler parts of the day. Properly warm up before exercising and cool down afterwards. Also, during your warm-weather workout, be sure to take frequent rest breaks in a shaded spot.
  3. Slowly build up the amount of time you spend outside to get used to the heat. On the really hot or humid days, try to spend as much time inside as possible.
  4. Try wearing light-colored clothing that is loose fitting and tightly woven. If you’re exercising in the heat, there are several garments designed for runners and cyclists that are designed to wick moisture away from your body to help you cool down.
  5. Stay protected from the sun by wearing hats and sunglasses when you can. And, don’t forget the sunscreen.

So, maybe it’s yet another reason for me to quit making excuses and just wake up at 5 a.m. to hit the mountain. Ugh. I hate 5 a.m.

Read more about the symptoms and treatment of heat-related illnesses

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