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Too hot to exercise?


FEELING THE HEAT It can take up to two weeks to acclimatise to hot weather.

Training in a heatwave means taking a few precautions

Andrew O'Brien

“It’s roashting. I’m kilt, kilt with the heat. Sure, we’re not used to this.”
Normally when putting a quote in the newspaper, it’s important to make sure to give the name of the person who said it, but in the last month I’ve heard so many variations on the above it would be quicker to list those who didn’t say it! I’ll admit it has been reasonably warm, but not hot enough to be checking whether I’m medium well or well done. Nor hot enough to discuss whether I’m a Scottish man’s skirt.
Met Éireann tell us that we’ve officially had a heatwave, maybe even two by now, because we’ve had five consecutive days over 25oC, the news has had constant updates as to whether records have been broken and at least one outlet published advice on whether it’s safe to exercise in temperatures over 30oC.
So is it? How hot is too hot to exercise?  And what precautions should you take when exercising in warm weather?

Hot heatwave tips
Is it safe to exercise in temperatures over 30oC? The short answer is yes, but you might want to be a bit sensible. Considering how rarely the temperature rises that high in Ireland, most people aren’t acclimatised, a process than take up to two weeks.
Bearing that in mind, it’s a good idea to get your sessions in early in the morning, before it warms up, or later in the evening. If your schedule doesn’t allow for that and you have to train when the temperature is hottest, you will need to take it easier. Instead of running to a set pace based on normal temperatures, you’ll need to run by feel a bit more and ignore the watch.
By the same token, it’s worth remembering that the official temperature regularly exceeds 40oC during the Australian Open Tennis and the on-court temperatures are higher again. The Badwater Ultramarathon is a 135-mile race run across California’s Death Valley, officially the hottest place on earth, in July, when temperatures can exceed 50oC. Oh, and it starts below sea level and climbs to 2,500m above, just to make it difficult.
Admittedly, Badwater competitors and the professional tennis players generally spend some time in the area acclimatising, but they’re certainly not taking it easy.
Gael Force West was on recently, on a fairly warm day, and I heard reports of competitors struggling with cramp in the heat. Typically, cramps are blamed on dehydration, especially when the weather is hot. However, the science does not back the dehydration theory. Cramps are actually due to fatigue, either locally within the affected muscle, or central, whole body fatigue. Cramps are thus more likely in hot weather because we fatigue more quickly when it is hot.
Interestingly, there is a suggestion that cramps are more likely to affect male athletes because they typically don’t adjust pacing to suit the conditions as well as female athletes. Another acknowledgement of male stupidity to keep me in the good books!
Sadly, Mayo are out of the All-Ireland, but that means more games more regularly for local players, who just might not be quite as fit as the county players, and thus more prone to struggling in the heat. Managers would be well served to take the heat into account on match days.
The obvious consideration is to make sure there is plenty of water available for players, as much to cool them down as to maintain hydration levels.
Another thing to take into account is the length and intensity of the pre-match warm up. Remember, the players are already physically warm and potentially partly fatigued due to the heat, so the usual 45-minute warm-up is likely to be counterproductive. Instead a shorter, sharper warm-up, aiming to get players up to match speed but without overheating or over-fatiguing them is advisable.
If you are struggling to exercise in the heat, the best approach is to work around it. Start earlier in the morning or later in the evening, and adjust your intensity to suit the weather. Make sure you have a drink on hand to help cool you down or better again, have a refreshing dip in the sea. Don’t complain too much though, by December you’ll be reminiscing about the good old days of June.

Andrew O’Brien is a chartered physiotherapist and the owner of Wannarun Physiotherapy and Running Clinic at Westport Leisure Park. He can be contacted on 083 1593200 or at www.wannarun.ie.

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