Are you the type of person who struggles to stay cool when you exercise, regardless of the temperature outside? You're not alone. Many people overheat during an intense exercise and struggle to stay cool, especially in the warmer, summer months. And this can hamper your performance and cause more serious problems.
Feeling too hot when you exercise is not only uncomfortable, it also puts extra stress on your body, and can cause anything from a slight headache to full-blown heatstroke. I’ve always loved the heat– in fact, summer is my favourite season.
Thanks to living in humid Durban for most of my life, I’ve learned some tricks to staying cool when exercising. These strategies help me feel comfortable and energised throughout my workout. They may seem obvious, but they really work!
Here's how to stay cool when you exercise:
Your clothes and shoes are key
Did you know that, to help keep you cool, your body sends additional blood to circulate throughout your skin? This means less blood for your muscles to work efficiently, which can increase your heart rate.
Under normal conditions, your body adjusts to the heat, but in extreme heat, these natural cooling systems may fail. This is why it’s important to wear the right clothing. – It’s not just about looking pretty!
Start by wearing thin layers and take them off as you warm up. Try bamboo, cotton and any other synthetic fabric that’s lightweight and breathable. Thermodynamic fabrics are a bit more expensive but also help to keep your body at the optimal temperature.
When my feet are too hot, I find that my entire body feels the same, so another important tip is to wear good quality trainers.
If you enjoy weight training and rebounding, Fitkicks are ideal as they're lightweight, breathable and durable shoes - and almost feel like slippers. (If you're a runner, walker or cyclist, you'll need to find the right footwear to support your feet).
Protect your face and eyes
To avoid sunburn and heatstroke, be sure to wear a hat or cap to cover your nose and face if you exercise outdoors. When I go out for a run, I never leave home without my sunglasses as they also protect my sensitive eyes from straining in the bright sun and this helps to avoid headaches. SPF is also important to protect your skin. Sun damage is irreversible.
When outdoors, it's also better to wear bright or light colours that reflect the sun, as opposed to darker colours that absorb heat.
I can't emphasise this point enough! Dehydration is the main cause of heat-related discomfort during exercise. To avoid headaches and low energy, drink up!
While I wouldn’t advise drinking huge amounts of water before or throughout training, sipping small amounts of water will help your body sweat and cool down.
It's also a good idea to drink plenty of water after a workout, or switch to a drink with added electrolytes if you've pushed really hard.
Yup, I know caffeine gives you a spring in you step, but it's best to avoid caffeinated or alcoholic beverages before, during or straight after exercise, as these are all diuretics. This means they accelerate the effects of dehydration.
Adjust your environment
Make sure you exercise with some sort of ventilation to keep the environment cool and comfortable. A fan is better than aircon which can dry out the air, but avoid it blowing directly onto you.
If it’s really hot outside, stick to exercising indoors and avoid the sun between 10am and 3pm.
Fuel your body appropriately
I always eat something at least half an hour before training. Fruit is my favourite pre-workout snack. If you can, it's a good idea to eat a substantial meal at least two to three hours before training as this is an effective way to maintain your energy levels throughout the workout.
Just a note - if you prefer to train on an empty stomach (also known as a fasted cardio session), it may impact on your overall energy and performance. It may also cause low blood pressure, which could leave you feeling faint and nauseas.
To replenish your muscles and revive your energy after a workout, try to have a balanced meal beteen 30-60 minutes after exercising. Always include a carbohydrate, protein and a healthy fat. Smoothies are a good option, especially because they contain ice to cool you down! I’m also a fan of eggs, toast and avocado.
Cool yourself down
To cool yourseld down after a workout or on a really hot day, fill a spray bottle with cold water and spray the back of your neck, face and chest.
Another option is to dip a face towel in cold water, wring it out and apply it to the back of your neck. You can also put ice in a cold face towel or use the ice packs that you store in the fridge.
Take it slow
While it’s important to push yourself with every workout, it may not be the best idea in the blazing heat. If you’re new to exercise, or unfit, your body may have a lower tolerance to the heat.
And, even if you are fit, the heat may lower your endurance and strength capabilities. So, know your limits and back off when you need to. Take frequent breaks, hydrate and reduce your intensity while working out. This is especially important if you have a medical condition that may increase your susceptibility to heat-related illness!