Athletes accustomed to performing their regular outdoor training regimens often continue despite drastic changes in climate. During summer months, this persistence can result in severe injury.
The human body strives to maintain an ideal body temperature of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. This requires the interaction of temperature receptors in the skin that relay information to the brain.
The hypothalamus is the area of the brain that interprets this information and, in the case of elevated temperatures, signals muscles and sweat glands to begin a cooling process. Any malfunction in the process, or subjecting the body to overwhelming temperatures, can result in heat-related illness.
Heat stroke is the most severe of the heat-related illnesses. It typically occurs when the body temperature rises in excess of 103 degrees.
The body responds by increasing the heart rate to pump more blood to the skin, where it can become cooled. It also pumps more blood to muscles to keep up with metabolic demand.
In an effort to lower the core temperature, blood is diverted from the brain and other essential organs. Symptoms include a racing heart rate, lightheadedness, muscle cramps, headache and confusion. If ignored, these symptoms can lead to a loss of consciousness.
“Here are three tips for exercising in hot weather,” reports Dr. Douglas Casa, Professor of Kinesiology at the University of Connecticut. “1) Take it easy — you can not push as hard as you can in cool conditions, so back off a little; 2) If you ever start to feel something is amiss, listen to your body and lower your intensity and seek cooler conditions; 3) have cold fluids and cooling towels at the ready for you or your children when exercising in the heat.“
Caution when exercising in extreme heat can avoid serious injury.
Dr. Alessi is a neurologist in Norwich and serves as an on-air contributor for ESPN. He is director of UConn NeuroSport and can be reached at email@example.com