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Should You Exercise in the Heat?

With the terrible storms and high heat hitting much of the country and many of us (including here in Chicagoland) without electricity, the question of whether one should exercise probably isn't high on our question list right now.

However, even with the disasters going on, I've seen plenty of people out and about, running and walking and, no doubt, sweating their you-know-whats off. Exercising when it's very hot outside can be done, but it can be at best, uncomfortable and, at worst, dangerous without the proper precautions. Minor issues like dehydration, sunburn, heat rash and/or a really crappy workout can turn into major problems like heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

The problem is, we often don't know we're overdoing it until it's too late. If you exercise all the time, you may not think twice about heading outside for your usual workout, not realizing that your body, no matter how fit it is, needs time to adapt to hot weather exercise. A few tips:

- Watch your heart rate: High temperatures and humidity can send your heart rate soaring. Many of us try to run, walk or cycle at the same pace we normally do, sometimes pushing ourselves even when we're clearly struggling. Wear a heart rate monitor and check your heart rate regularly. If it's very high, you know to back off, cut your workout short or move it indoors.

- The sweat factor: If you stop sweating, that's a major warning sign that your body can't regulate your temperature and you should stop your workout and head indoors.

- Look for signs of heat exhaustion: Besides the sweat factor, stop your workout and get indoors if you feel nausea, fatigue, dizziness or so hot that your head might catch on fire. Treating yourself right away (with fluids, a cold shower, an air conditioned room, etc.) can help you avoid heat stroke, which is much more serious and usually requires emergency treatment.

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