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NEWS | Aug. 12, 2014

Beat the heat: remain safe in heat, humidity

By Capt. Josh Van Wyngaarden and Staff Sgt. Jacob Wielgosiek 628th Medical Group Physical Therapy

Summer is here and we know what that means: 100% humidity and black flag conditions before 9 a.m., but we still have a job to do. The 628th Air Base Wing 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 which all can be brought on by running or training in these warmer climates.

We've all been there; we know we have a PT test coming up and before we know it there just isn't enough time to adequately train, especially in the summer heat. Many of us have experienced heat cramps running during our fitness assessment or preparing for it.

Heat cramps are just 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. This may be caused by imbalances or deficiencies in your body's electrolyte stores or by a lack of training. A lack of training is one of the main causes people cramp in their calf or hamstring muscle or even their diaphragm during a fitness assessment.

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 and increase your fluid intake.

Lack of hydration not only leads to heat cramps but to a potentially more severe heat illness. During the summer your body begins to sweat the minute you step outside, which means you lose fluids and electrolytes from your body. Losing fluids 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 might also experience a 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 and replenish your body with fluids, such as a sports drink containing electrolytes.. 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.

Heat stroke is the most severe of the three heat illnesses. If heat exhaustion goes untreated it could rapidly turn into heat stroke which can be life threatening. Heat stroke is a result of prolonged exposure to high temperatures in combination with dehydration. It is characterized by a body temperature up to 105°F which can be life threatening if not promptly or properly treated. Some of the symptoms of heat stroke are lethargy ... a lack of energy or enthusiasm, extreme weakness, lack of sweating despite the heat, confusion with odd or bizarre behavior, unconsciousness and seizures. If you suspect someone is experiencing a 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 decrease the body temperature.

To prevent or to decrease your chances of experiencing either of these heat illnesses, there are a few important things you must remember about running or training in the heat. First, it would be best to research a heat training progression program to get you started if you are unaccustomed to exercising in the heat. If you feel that you must work out, or you just simply enjoy the heat and want to run or train during the summer, always try and run first thing in the morning while it's cool. If mornings are not possible and you have to run in the afternoon when it's hottest, remember to always stay hydrated to avoid muscle cramps or worse. Run in the shade when possible, and it is always best to run with a wingman so you can keep an eye on each other's physical status. Your running pace in the summer should not be as fast as it is in cooler seasons; slowing down could help decrease your chances of experiencing any form of heat illness.

Remember the signs and symptoms of each of these heat illnesses and stop exercising immediately if you begin to feel any of these symptoms coming on. If possible get to a shady area, stretch and hydrate.

It is important to exercise and maintain physical fitness so we can continue to enable readiness, but it is just as important to stay safe while doing so. If this article has piqued your interest and you would like more information on running optimization and prevention of heat related injuries, visit the Physical Therapy Clinic here at Joint Base Charleston - Air Base.