Should you work out in the heat?

By Wendy Clinch •  Updated: 06/29/21 •  3 min read

The weather news out of the Pacific Northwest over the past few days has been positively historic.

On Monday, Seattle broke a record for the highest temperature ever recorded by the National Weather Service there: 108 degrees. The previous high of 105 degrees had been set in July 2009. In Portland, it was 115 degrees, the highest temperature ever recorded in the city since historical records began in 1940.

The rest of the country has been sweltering, too. The high in Phoenix spiked at 118 last week. And records are dropping all over the place. Makes hard for me to complain about the the 90 degree temps we’ve been having here in Vermont (though I do, anyway).

So what do you do when you’re a dedicated runner/cyclist/hiker/outdoor enthusiast, and it’s hot enough to buckle asphalt or melt the power cables used for mass transit? And I’m not exaggerating: Both of these are actually happening in the PNW right now.

Heat is nothing to mess around with. Across the country, heat caused at least 10,000 deaths between 1999 and 2016 – more than hurricanes, tornadoes or floods in most years. And that’s likely to increase as temperatures continue to rise.

I don’t mind summer, but these temperatures are crazy. Once it reaches the 80’s, I’ve pretty much had it. And with summer just getting started, there’s no doubt we’ll be seeing a lot more really high temps in the next few months.

So what should you do when it’s really, really hot? Should you go outside and work out?  Or should you skip it entirely and feel like a complete slug?

You could sit around and dream about ski season. That’s one alternative, though it won’t do you much good. Or you could work out indoors, where it’s air conditioned, which is probably a lot better. But if you simply have to get outside, make sure to take the  proper precautions:

Use common sense. If it’s crazy hot, like it’s been in recent days, just give it a rest. Better to skip a workout day than suffer heat stroke. You could probably use a rest day, anyway.

Drink plenty of fluids. And I mean plenty. Dehydration can contribute to fatigue and poor performance. Even worse, it can cause heat stroke. So be sure to drink 2 cups of water 2 hours before you start your exercise routine, and keep it coming — about 8 ounces every 15 minutes.

Wear appropriate clothing, preferably light in color and moisture wicking. Cotton stays wet, making clothes cold and uncomfortable, so it’s not the best choice. There are a lot of high tech fabrics that are much better and will keep you feeling better.

Exercise during a cooler part of the day. It’s best to go out first thing in the morning, or late in the day, when the sun isn’t directly overhead.

If you stop sweating, stop exercising. Or if you feel nauseous or dizzy or especially hot. This is extremely important. You could be suffering from heat stroke, which can require emergency treatment.

Swim. This is a great way to exercise and stay cool at the same time. Kind of a no-brainer, don’t you think?
Also, it’d be a good idea to learn to recognize the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Here’s a handy-dandy graphic put out by the National Weather Service that can help:

Keep cool, everyone.  Remember, the earth is turning and winter is coming. Then we’ll complain about the cold. 😉