The Surprising Benefits of Working Out in Hellishly Hot Weather

There is no shortage of practical tips to help you prepare for a jog, stroll, ride or row in hot-as-hell weather. Simply, Google “tips for exercising in the heat” and you will get a long list of articles that provide the same or similar advice. One of the most detailed and medically based articles can be found on the Mayo Clinic website.

This article and many others highlight two basic requirements for exercising in the heat: check with a medical professional to understand any medical risks and manage your body temperature. Most experts agree on the following:

  • Plan your exercise for the coolest time of day.
  • Start slow and allow your body to acclimate to the heat.
  • Replace the fluids you lose through sweating by drinking before, during and after exercise.
  • Wear clothing designed to keep you cool – lightweight, moisture-wicking fabrics, if possible — and avoid dark colors.
  • If all else fails, have a backup plan to exercise indoors.

The prevailing wisdom for exercising in the heat is to protect what you have and replenish what you lose. Protecting your health is important – very important. Each year more than 600 people die because of extreme heat. But, there is another side to exercising in the heat and it’s about what you gain.

woman doing push ups on bench
Training in high temperatures: it’s not about what you lose but what you gain.

Gain a new perspective

I have exercised in the Texas heat for 20 years, but I wasn’t always a fan of hot weather. I am from Michigan where the summers are short and humid. When I moved, I brought my northern perspective to the south. When northerners experience the heat in the south, they find it oppressive. So, initially, I never considered exercising in the heat of the summer; it was just too hot. The first few years, my outdoor exercise was scheduled for fall and winter, and I spent summers in the bliss of an air-conditioned gym.

One year, my spring workout schedule hit a few days of high heat. As I pushed through those days of high heat, my perspective started to change. Instead of seeing the heat as a stop sign, I regarded it as one of those orange caution signs you see in construction zones.  You have no power over a construction zone, but you navigate your way through them every day. Once you change your perspective on exercising in the heat, it is no longer a barrier; it becomes a challenge that can help you meet your goals.

Gain an advantage

When the weather forecast predicts extreme temperatures, modify your activities to either take advantage of the heat or lessen the impact. If your goal is to increase performance, heat training is your friend. Researchers at the University of Oregon found a 7 percent increase in performance in hot and cool temperatures after only 10 heat exposures. If you are planning a competition, heat training is a great way to enhance your performance.

If you are more interested in general health and wellness, you may opt for minimizing the impact of high temperatures. Most experts agree that exercising early, before the sun rises or during the latter part of the evening gives you the benefit of the coolest part of the day. However, more frequently, the coolest part of the day is still very hot. In this instance, consider a range of activities like running, biking, swimming, rowing, walking or indoor weight training. Plan the activities that provide the cooling advantage of wind or water on the days when the temperature is high.

Gain focus on what’s important

There are so many things to experience when exercising in high temperatures. Each of your senses is exposed at a heightened level. Smells are more intense. Colors are brighter. Your skin is more exposed. Take it all in.

On the days when you have to pull yourself off the couch just to go for a walk in the sun, challenge yourself to focus on the total experience. Listen to your breathing and feel the warm air as it enters your lungs. Notice the smells in the air. Is it cut grass? Lilac? Wet dog? Running in the heat is a kaleidoscope of scents.

Feel the hot sun on your skin. Heat training is the perfect opportunity to learn the difference between warming and burning. Adjust your clothing or move to a shaded location if necessary.

See the plants, the people, and the wildlife as you pass by. Acknowledge their existence and ponder on how each helps support your life. Hear the sounds. The whistles. The slithers. The rustling of the wind.

Ponder on your place in this big beautiful universe. Enjoy it, because now you are done. Sweat glistening on your beautiful skin and drenching your clothes. Breathing heavily to release the heat from your lungs. Feeling lighter…accomplished…grateful.

Angelia McFarland is a writer, advocate, marketer and entrepreneur. Through her company EOP Media, LLC, she helps people use the power of digital and social marketing to amplify their authentic voice. Follow her on Facebook at @eopmedia

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