7 Hot-Weather Workout Tips to Keep You Safe
Staying incentivized to exercise under normal conditions can be difficult – let alone when the summer heat really kicks in. And when you have diabetes, working out in hot weather can cause all kinds of challenges. One of the biggest concerns: a drop or increase in blood sugar levels without much warning.
But don’t let this discourage you. Regular exercise comes with some major perks, including increased energy, better sleep and appetite control.
We talked to the experts to get their best tips on staying safe and comfortable when exercising outdoors in hot temps. As a general rule, be sure to clear any exercise programs with your healthcare provider first. And if at any point in the workout you feel too hot – rest. If you feel out of breath – rest. If you find yourself having trouble breathing, dizzy, or lightheaded – stop what you’re doing immediately and drink some water. If symptoms don’t quickly improve, contact your doctor or call 911.
1. Carry an emergency kit.
Before you even think about leaving the house, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that you first prepare a small emergency kit to carry along. If you require insulin, make sure to pack it. Everyone should also have a go-to quick fix for low blood sugar such as glucose tabs, glucose gel, juice or candy such as Starburst or Skittles. If you're heading out for a long bike ride or hike, and won’t be eating for a while, pack a granola bar. A granola bar can make a good snack, but should not be used to treat lows since they take longer to digest and will not raise the blood glucose levels fast enough. Also, write down the name and contact info of a family member or friend, as well as your healthcare provider – just in case.
The easiest way to organize these items is to carry a small bag with you – designed specifically for use during a work-out. The North Face makes several great “hip packs” including the Bozer Hip Pack that you can wear around your waist. Not your style? No problem. Search out “waist packs” and boom – you’ve got thousands to choose from.
It’s also a great idea to let a loved one know exactly where you’re going, when you expect to return, and even set up a check-in time. Sending a quick “I’m ok!” text to a friend is a great safety checkpoint.
2. Choose fabrics that don't smother your skin.
Although cotton may seem like the most comfortable fabric to have on your skin, it can trap heat and sweat. Your best bet is to choose light colored, porous cotton blends. A great warm-weather friendly fabric is TENCEL. Derived from the wood pulp of bamboo, it allows the sweat to evaporate more easily from the skin. Clothing made with an ultraviolet guard is also a smart option since it can help block some of the sun’s harmful rays.
Don’t stop with your feet. Comfortable, breathable socks are important —especially if you have diabetic neuropathy. “Almost any of today's sports socks made with breathable materials that remove water are better than cotton, especially for people who have loss of sensation in their feet and may develop sores without realizing it,” says Sheri R. Colberg, PhD, FACSM, an exercise physiologist and professor of exercise science at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA. “Socks that keep feet drier are much better for avoiding trauma points and blisters.”
3. Time your workouts carefully.
Generally speaking, you’ll want to hit the pavement for your walk (jog, bike ride, hike – whatever your pleasure) during the very early morning hours or, in the early evening as the sun starts to go down. Dr. Colberg warns that “any temperature over about 75 degrees Fahrenheit can lead to heat exhaustion or heat stroke, depending on the humidity, air movement, direct sunshine, etc." For this reason, try to avoid the hottest parts of the day when the sun is directly overhead. She adds: "It takes up to two weeks to acclimatize to exercising in the heat, and during that time people are advised to reduce their exercise intensity and duration a bit and to exercise at cooler times of the day.”
The bottom line: If you feel too hot – don’t force yourself. Instead, choose an indoor activity – such as mall-walking, a quick walk on the treadmill, or if you have access to a pool – go for a swim.
4. Hydrate, and hydrate some more.
Overheating and dehydration are serious concerns and are not to be taken lightly. Make sure to drink plenty of cool water before, during and after workouts.
“If you're dehydrated, your heart rate will also go higher during the same activities to compensate,” explains Dr. Colberg.” Dehydration can also falsely elevate blood glucose levels, so once again hydration is key.
Have a hard time tracking your water intake? The American Diabetes Association has partnered up with MyHydrate and developed a “Smart Bottle” that helps – you guessed it – track how much water you drink. The bottle also doubles as a fruit infuser to give your water an extra kick, and even displays the ambient temp. For every smart bottle sold, $1 is donated to the American Diabetes Association – you’re helping yourself, and others!
5. Check blood glucose levels before and after a workout.
If you’re taking meds like like glyburide or rely on insulin injections to control your diabetes, you’re at a higher risk of low blood sugar during and following a workout. In this case, check blood glucose levels before and after an activity.
Unless your healthcare provider has recommended you monitor your heart rate during workouts, it’s not really necessary to do so but is a good tool to use to see how your heart tolerates activity.
6. Keep insulin pump and tubing shielded from the sun.
The good news: As long as the pump is covered with your clothing, it will not be exposed to direct sunlight and the insulin is protected. Since the insulin is housed within the pump, that gives it protection. But if you wear a pump with tubing, the tubing is vulnerable to the heat. The heat decreases the potency of the insulin, making it less effective. Even if your pump is covered, you need to pay close attention to the temperature. If you will be outside in temps above 86 degrees Farhenheit, purge the insulin from the tubing before bolusing (depending on the size of the tubing, it could be 10 to 20 units.) You'll want to disonnect from the infusion site to purge.
7. Cool it on down!
Congrats! You finished your workout…almost. Cooling down from your workout is crucial to bringing your body back down to its resting levels. Stretch, drink some water, and take some deep breaths. “It always works well to get into a cooler environment (even if that's just the shade) or the air conditioned indoors,” says Dr. Colberg. And drink chilled water. “Drinking cool fluids allows them to get absorbed faster than warm ones and makes you feel cooler at the same time to boot,” she says.