by Claire Miller
The city of Atlanta is humming with the sounds of air conditioning units and fans working overtime to keep residents cool during the hottest days of the year.
Walt Thompson, Regents professor in exercise science in the College of Education's Department of Kinesiology and Health, offers his tips for staying healthy during the humid summer months.
Tip #1: Avoid outdoor activities during midday, when the sun's rays are strongest.
Summer days are hottest and most humid around midday, so for those who want to exercise outside, Thompson suggests doing so early in the morning – when the air quality is best – and drinking two glasses of water or a sports beverage that doesn’t contain sugar before and after a walk or run. "Hydrating before you exercise will decrease the likelihood of becoming dehydrated," he said.
Tip #2: When you're outside in hot weather, wear the right kind of clothes, use sunscreen and avoid caffeinated foods and beverages.
Faculty, staff and students who walk around campus on their way to classes and meetings can protect themselves from the sun's rays by wearing light-colored, lightweight clothing, donning wide-brimmed hats and applying sunscreen.
Thompson also said that avoiding caffeinated foods and beverages can make a difference, too. "Caffeine acts as a stimulant and in hot and humid conditions – it speeds up the metabolism when it's time to slow it down," he explained.
Tip #3: Stay hydrated throughout the day by drinking plenty of water.
How can you tell if you've had enough water? Thompson suggests using the following rule of thumb: If you're thirsty, you are already dehydrated. Keeping this in mind will remind people when to fill up their water bottles.
For a more scientific approach, people can also monitor their urine color, Thompson said. If urine color starts to darken, this is a sign to start rehydrating.
Tip #4: During the hot and humid summer days, take a day off from exercising outdoors. Instead, seek an indoor alternative that provides air-conditioned comfort while you exercise.
Health experts suggest that adults get 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days during the week, while children and teens should get about 60 minutes of moderate exercise most days. However, exercising outside during the hottest months of the year can be hazardous. Unless you can get your workout done early in the day, Thompson said it doesn't hurt to take a day off from exercising outdoors.
Some argue that missing a day of exercise will negate the progress they've made previously, but Thompson said it takes more than one day of inactivity to do so. "It takes about 7 to 10 consecutive days of being physically inactive to lose the fitness gained previously – less if you experience complete bed rest," he said.
For those that want to maintain their workout regimen, Thompson suggests taking advantage of summer deals encouraging people to become members of medical fitness centers, corporate wellness programs, commercial health clubs and other recreational facilities. "Exercising indoors, where it is air conditioned, and the temperature is kept at 72 degrees and humidity is around 45 percent, is preferable to exercising in 100-degree weather with 95 percent humidity," he said.
Tip #5: When you eat out or attend a neighborhood barbecue, always keep food safety in mind.
Staying healthy during the summer months doesn't just mean getting plenty of exercise – it also includes eating fruits, vegetables and lean meats. If you plan to eat out, be sure to check the food safety inspection reports for the restaurants you frequent before you go.
Thompson also notes that those planning picnics, barbecues and hikes should be careful when preparing and storing food. "Foodborne illnesses increase in warmer weather," he explained. "Remember to always keep foods safe during cookouts and camping trips by handling, preparing and cooking it properly."
Tip #6: Children and the elderly are more vulnerable to heat exhaustion than adults, so they should exercise caution when participating in outdoor activities.
Taking children to the pool can be a great way to keep them active during the summer, but they are more vulnerable to heat exhaustion than adults. Parents should make sure their kids apply sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher that protects against both UVA and UVB rays; reapply sunscreen after two hours in the sun; and drink plenty of water to prevent any heat-related injuries or illnesses.
The elderly are also susceptible to heat exhaustion, and should follow Tip #4 and continue their exercise regimen indoors, Thompson said.
Tip #7: Recognize the symptoms of heat illness and when it does occur, seek a cool environment and drink plenty of fluids.
When temperatures rise into the 100s in Atlanta, it can be difficult to tell the difference between feeling the effects of the weather and a more severe reaction to the heat. Symptoms of heat stress can include flushed skin, dizziness, headache, nausea, vomiting and loss of consciousness.
Heat stroke, the worst of these heat-related conditions, occurs when the body temperature exceed 105 degrees. If this is the case, it's important to seek medical help to prevent long-lasting damage to your body. "In the worst cases, prolonged body temperatures of more than 105 degrees can cause permanent damage to the heart, brain, kidneys and other internal organs and, in some cases, can cause death," Thompson said.