Physical Therapy in Hampton Roads
Main Navigation

Expert Tips to Beat Heat-Related Illnesses

Woman jogging by lakeBy: Erin Ludwig, MS, ATC, VAT/L, Supervisor of Athletic Training Services, Bon Secours Sports Medicine

With the summer months upon us, whether you’re running, playing a pickup game of basketball or going for a power walk, make sure you take care of  your body when the temperatures rise.

Exercising in hot weather puts extra stress on your body. When exercising in the heat, you can potentially risk serious illness. Both the exercise itself and the air temperature increase your core body temperature. To help cool itself, your body sends more blood to circulate through your skin. This leaves less blood for your muscles, which in turn increases your heart rate.

If the humidity also is high, your body faces added stress because sweat doesn’t readily evaporate from your skin, pushing your body temperature even higher. In addition to circulating the blood throughout the body to cool itself, your body also uses fluids (sweat) to cool itself, causing an increase in need for fluid intake during these times.  If a person is unable to meet the fluid needs of the body, a heat illness can occur.

Heat-related illnesses occur along a spectrum, starting out mild but worsening if left untreated. Heat illnesses include:

  • Heat rash – a skin irritation caused by heat
  • Heat cramps – painful muscle contractions that cause the affected muscles to feel firm to the touch
  • Heat syncope – a feeling of lightheadedness or fainting caused by high temperatures, often occurring after standing for a long period of time or standing quickly after sitting for a long period of time
  • Heat Exhaustion – medical condition characterized by sweaty, clammy skin, weakness, rapid pulse, dizziness, nausea, headache, fatigue, and irritability
  • Heat Stroke – medical emergency characterized by hot, dry skin, temperature over 105, rapid pulse, unconsciousness, disorientation, headache, fatigue, and irritability


If you develop any of these symptoms, you must lower your body temperature and get hydrated. Stop exercising immediately and get out of the heat. If possible, have someone stay with you who can help monitor your condition. If your symptoms do not improve within 30 minutes, seek medical attention.

By taking some basic precautions, your exercise routine doesn’t have to be sidelined when the heat is on. Below are some tips on how to avoid heat related illnesses.

  • Know your fitness level.
  • Drink plenty of fluids – water and sports drinks are your best choices. Increase your fluid intake before, during and after exercise and take frequent water breaks. Don’t wait until you are thirsty. Avoid sugary drinks, alcoholic beverages, and caffeine.
  • Watch the temperature and adjust your activity accordingly.
  • Get acclimated – if you’re used to exercising indoors or in cooler weather, take it easy at first when you exercise in the heat and gradually increase the length and intensity of your outdoor exercise.
  • Dress appropriately – lightweight, loose-fitting clothing helps sweat evaporate and keeps you cooler.