Watch Out for Heat and Humidity

As the American Heart Association reminds at this time of year, exercising outside in hot and humid conditions is hard on your heart.

Everyone looks forward to summer’s warm weather and sultry breezes, but a word to the wise for the recovering — even recovered – cardiac patient.

Exercise has certainly been established as a key component in any cardiac-recovery regimen. Yet in this case, like any other, one certainly is not looking to overdo it. Cardiologists are always warning patients about doing too much. In fact, hot weather has taken its toll on finely tuned athletes as well as “normal” people. It can spell trouble very easily for the patient with a weakened heart.

As the American Heart Association reminds at this time of year, exercising outside in hot and humid conditions is hard on your heart. In such weather, the heart and body are really doing double-duty. While your heart attempts to provide working muscles with blood and oxygen, the body is trying to cool itself off by sweating. All this decreases your total blood volume, meaning your heart has to work harder. If you are a recovering cardiac patient, you know your heart has even more limitations.

One must also attempt — no matter what physical shape he or she is in –to not suffer dehydration. This starts by recognizing the symptoms of heat exhaustion (heavy sweating, cold, clammy skin, dizziness or fainting, weak and rapid pulse, muscle cramps, fast, shallow breathing, nausea, vomiting, or all of the above) and heat stroke (warm, dry skin with no sweating, strong and rapid pulse, confusion or unconsciousness, high fever, throbbing headache, nausea or both), which is quite dangerous.

So what might one do to bolster an exercise program that keeps the heart tuned in torrid temperatures? Follow these simple rules:

  • If you belong to a gym, work out in the comfort of air-conditioning. Do the workout — both cardiac and strength training - that you do all other times of the year. Try to do your workout, even the indoor variety, in the early morning or evening, avoiding any meeting with the heat and humidity.
  • Walking is always good, but limit that to the mornings and evenings as well.
  • Take along some water, especially if you know you will sweat.
  • Wear light, loose clothing, whether walking outside or traveling to your gym.
  • Turn the temperature down a bit in the shower.
  • Relax after you exercise. Stay in the shade or in air-conditioning if possible.
  • Another idea, if you want to walk in a comfortable temperature and don’t usually work out at a facility is your local mall; they are always air-conditioned and the variety of stores you pass during a few laps around — which quickly add up to a mile or more – offer some interesting sights.

Much of this involves common sense, especially if your heart is not at top strength after a cardiac event. Chances are, if you followed your cardiologist’s ordered regimen of diet, medication and exercise, you are feeling as good as ever. Just don’t overdo it if you live in an area of coming heat and humidity.