Tips for exercising in hot weather

Exercising in hot weather can be a grueling task. Cramping, fatigue and heat exhaustion are a few of the conditions that athletes run the risk of experiencing. There are several important preventive strategies that any high level athlete, fitness enthusiast or weekend warrior can employ to reduce the adverse effects of the heat.

Stretch before you work out

Stretching before exercise helps your muscles prepare for the activity. Perform a variety of stretches to warm up your entire body, not just the muscles you think you'll use the most. For example, one might think running a 5K or 10K race only uses the leg muscles, but running also involves many postural muscles of the upper body. Hold each stretch for 45 seconds to one minute.

Stretching should feel good and not painful. Some people think that if they stretch to the point of pain they will get better, faster results. The opposite is actually true. If your muscles are overstretched, they will contract to prevent injury, creating a sort of tug of war that can lead to tears along the muscle fibers. A longer comfortable stretch allows your muscles to relax and elongate naturally.

Stay hydrated

Hydration is the single most critical component of preventing the dangerous effects of the heat.

You should drink 12 to 20 ounces of water two hours before you exercise. Then, drink 7 to 10 ounces of more water 10 to 20 minutes before you exercise. Although fluid loss in hot weather varies in individuals, it is generally recommended that you drink 7 to 10 ounces of water every 20 minutes while you're exercising.

If you choose to drink a sports drink instead of water, be aware of the sugar content. Sports drinks can be beneficial because they replace valuable electrolytes that are lost when you sweat, but many brands use sugar for flavoring. Choosing a drink that is 6 to 8 percent carbohydrate in the form of glucose and fructose is ideal.

​Be aware that the temperature of the fluids you drink influences how well they are absorbed and used by your body. The recommendation is that a fluid be around 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit (or 10 to 15 degrees Celsius).

Greg O'Donnell is manager of The Christ Hospital Physical and Occupational Therapy Centers.