How to Prevent Heat-Related Illness

chiropractic ann arbor, heat related illness, prevent heat related illness

From Dr. Gessert: From time to time I meet members of the community who are just as excited about helping people as I am. They’re knowledgeable in their field and do a great job at helping people to change their life. On occasion I invite these folks to share vital health information. At Pivotal, we believe that chiropractic care can work hand-in-hand with other types of healthcare to help people.

This month, we hear from Nicola Gerrett, who has researching human body temperature regulation for more than 10 years.

Summertime provides us with more opportunities to enjoy sports and exercise outside, but as air temperature rises, so does the risk of heat related incidences, such as heat syncope (fainting), heat cramps, heat strain, and heat stroke. This is exacerbated if there is little cloud cover (i.e., increased radiation from the sun) and if the relative humidity is high. But there are a few guiding principles to protect yourself from heat related incidences, and any reductions in exercise performance or recovery.

When you exercise your body produces heat and the body is able to keep its core temperature within safe boundaries through two key mechanisms; behavioral and autonomic regulation. Behavior is our first line of defense, and some obvious examples include seeking shade, turning on/off air conditioners and how we dress.

The autonomic response are those physiological responses that occur without our conscious control. The two key responses are changes in blood flow to the skin surface and an increase in sweat production. The blood vessels near your skin surface dilate, to help dissipate as much heat from the core to the environment as possible. This is only effective if the skin temperature (usually 33C) is lower than air temperature. This re-distribution of blood flow to the skin surface can increase cardiovascular strain.  

But the most effective autonomic response that humans possess is the evaporation of sweat from the skin surface, which helps cool the skin and the blood below the skin surface, sending cooler blood back to the core. Sweating is a highly effective strategy and is almost unique to humans. The only other mammals that sweat across their entire skin surface are horses, camels and some cattle. Sweating is extremely important for controlling our body temperature but if we do not replace the water we lose via sweating then we increase the risk of dehydration.

The amount of sweat we produce varies massively between people and is influenced by the exercise intensity, duration and the environmental conditions. Sweat losses in excesses of 1 liter of sweat per hour are not uncommon during the summer for moderate intensity exercise.

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that you should consume 23 (fl oz) for every pound lost during exercise. If you want to ensure you’re hydrated, weighing yourself pre- and post-workout is highly recommended to become familiar with your typical sweat rates.

Sweat not only contains water, it also contains various electrolytes, including sodium, chloride and potassium. The content of sweat also varies between people but it also varies day-to-day and across the body. So, whilst there are some wearable sensors that can monitor sweat content losses, they do not reflect the losses across the whole body and should not be used to determine how to restore electrolytes.

The simple advice to follow is to consume drinks containing sodium or small amounts of salted snacks to help your post exercise hydration status. This will help stimulate thirst, encouraging you to drink more and retain the fluid that you have consumed. Cold fluids are also absorbed faster and tend to be more palatable than lukewarm fluids.

Tips for Safe Summer Outdoor Exercise

Some final tips:

  • Hydrate with cold fluids containing some sodium and carbohydrates at least 4 hours before you exercise
  • Avoid exercise during the hottest parts of the day (12-4pm)
  • Wear loose-fitting and light-colored clothes
  • Re-hydrate after exercise with cold fluids, containing some sodium and carbohydrates

Nicola Gerrett has a PhD in Environmental Physiology from Loughborough University, UK. She has been researching human body temperature regulation for >10 years, holding various academic research positions in the UK, Japan, The Netherlands and the US. She has published research papers on topics ranging from sweat gland function and adaptation in young and older populations, cooling strategies for military personnel experiencing exertional heat stroke and heat adaptation strategies for Olympic athletes.  She now is the Director of Thermophysiology Research at Gentherm,  leading a team of research scientist and engineers who design, develop and evaluate the impact of thermal products on human thermoregulation in both medical and automotive industries. 

Follow Nicola on Social Media

Twitter / LinkedIn / Published papers 

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