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NEWS | July 24, 2015

Running in the heat

By Capt. Josh Van Wyngaarden and SSgt. Jacob Wielgosiek 628th Medical Group

Summer is here and we know what that means: 100 percent humidity and black flag conditions before 9 a.m., but we still have a job to do. Our mission statement, "We Enable Readiness" means we never stop working no matter the conditions. We still have to maintain our physical fitness and train in this hot and humid climate. Unfortunately, there are three major forms of heat illnesses, all of which can be brought on by running or training in these warmer climates.

Heat cramps are one illness you may experience from exercising in hot weather. A cramp is characterized by a painful involuntary muscle contraction caused by fatigue or strain. Many of us have experienced heat cramps running around the track during our fitness assessment or preparing for it. Cramps may be caused by imbalances or deficiencies in your body's electrolyte stores or by a lack of training.  Lack of training is a main cause of cramping in calf or hamstring muscles or the diaphragm during a fitness assessment.  We've all been there, we know we have a PT test coming up but we don't adequately train for a PT test in the summer heat. Cramps can become less frequent with heat training, proper hydration and electrolyte balance.  If you start to cramp, stop running or exercising and try to stretch and massage the cramped area.

Lack of hydration can potentially contribute to more severe heat illnesses. During the summer you begin to perspire the minute you step outside, which means you lose fluid and electrolytes from your body. Losing fluid and electrolytes can lead to dizziness and weakness if the lost fluids are not replaced. These could be signs of heat exhaustion. Heat exhaustion is characterized by a rise in body temperature, dizziness, nausea, vomiting and headaches. You could also experience lack of coordination, heavier than usual sweating accompanied by moist and cold skin, goose bumps and the heat cramps as mentioned earlier. If you experience any signs of heat exhaustion stop running or exercising immediately, replenish your body with fluids containing electrolytes like Gatorade. Get out of the sun if you can, lie down and raise your feet a few inches above your heart and if possible cool your body with wet towels. Heat exhaustion isn't the most severe of the three heat illnesses but, if left untreated or poorly managed, it could lead to an even more serious condition.

Heat stroke is the most severe of the three heat illnesses.  As stated before, if heat exhaustion goes untreated it could rapidly turn into heat stroke which could be life threatening.  Heat stroke is caused by prolonged exposure to high temperatures in combination with dehydration.  It is characterized by a body temperature rise to 105°F which can be life threatening if not promptly or properly treated.  Symptoms of heat stroke include lethargy (lack of energy or enthusiasm), extreme weakness, no perspiration despite the heat, confusion combined with odd or bizarre behavior, unconsciousness and seizures. If you suspect someone may be  experiencing heat stroke, call emergency services immediately. While waiting for emergency services to arrive, try and move the individual to an air conditioned environment or a cool shady area to help decrease the body temperature.  

To prevent or to decrease the chances of experiencing heat illnesses follow the suggestions below:

Research a heat training progression program to get started if unaccustomed to exercising in the heat.

Run first thing in the morning if possible while it's coolest.

If running  when it's hottest, remember to always stay hydrated to avoid muscle cramps or worse.

Run in the shade when possible and always run with a wingman to keep an eye on each other's physical status.

Slow your running pace in the summer.

Remember the signs and symptoms of heat illness and stop exercising immediately if experiencing symptoms. 

It is important to exercise and maintain physical fitness to enable readiness but it is just as important to stay safe while doing so.  For more information on running optimization and prevention of heat related injuries, please visit the Physical Therapy Clinic here at Joint Base Charleston.