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Heat, Environmental Factors, and Working Out

2009 August 20

I have always liked working out outdoors. While I exercise indoors at the gym most of the time, during the weekend I like to go running and walking along a trail by the Bayamón River banks. The beautiful scenery and birds are part of what makes this workout something I look forward to the whole week. However a recent diagnosis of temporary high blood pressure prevented me from working out for a few weeks. Resuming exercise involved only working out indoors and eliminating all high intensity workouts. At first, I was reluctant to refrain from running outdoors. So I have resumed my runs at a slower pace and during the early morning hours.

While I am sunwise during outdoor activities and protect my skin from UV rays by wearing a wide baseball cap, sunscreen and sunglasses, I was not aware that other environmental factors can contribute to heart disease and aggravate high blood pressure. Excessive heat and poor air quality are the most common environmental culprits related to heart problems. Hot weather can worsen ground-level ozone and air quality. In Puerto Rico, during the summer, Sahara dust particles make the situation even worse. According to NOAA’s website, high temperature, humidity and physical exertion can lead to heat disorder or heat stress.

Heat stress occurs when the body can no longer keep blood flowing to supply vital organs nor send blood to the skin to reduce body temperature. Signs of heat exhaustion include:

  • weakness
  • headache
  • breathlessness
  • nausea or vomiting
  • feeling faint or actually fainting.

It takes 30 minutes at least to cool the body down once a person suffers heat exhaustion. If not treated promptly, heat exhaustion can lead to serious heart problems. Preventing heat stress is simple. Here are a few suggestions I am currently following in order to enjoy exercise in the great outdoors without putting my overall health at risk.

  • Take rest breaks–I pause for 5 minutes intervals during my 4-mile jog
  • Limit heat exposure time—Perform outdoor activities early in morning or late afternoon hours
  • Check the air quality index — Avoid exercising when air quality is poor
  • Wear light and loose-fitting clothing
  • Drink plenty of water

Simple steps will allow you to stay healthy while you exercise!

About the author: Brenda Reyes Tomassini joined EPA in 2002. She is a public affairs specialist in the San Juan, Puerto Rico office and also handles community relations for the Caribbean Environmental Protection Division.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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5 Responses leave one →
  1. Michael E. Bailey permalink
    August 20, 2009

    Out door workouts are fun, but, like you pointed out, a person doing iht needs to take precausions and workout at times when air quality is good and sun rays are not so intense. I think the things you brought up too many track and football coaches from juniohr high school to professional level ever have not heard of or pay little attention to as every year we read and hear about high school, college and or professional track and football players dying during outdoor workouts. Best wishes, Michael E. Bailey.

  2. Russel permalink
    August 25, 2009

    I think the things you brought up too many track and football coaches from juniohr high school to professional level ever have not heard of or pay little attention to as every year we read and hear about high school, college and or professional track and football players dying during outdoor workouts. Best wishes, Michael E. Bailey.

  3. Della Hamlin permalink
    August 29, 2009

    Thanks for sharing such wonderful advice and information. I am currently acting accordingly.

  4. Brenda-EPA permalink
    August 30, 2009

    Thanks for your words. I always thought that working out was not harmful if you wore sunscreen but after the high blood pressure incident I had to take a long hard look at other factors/ patterns in my life. And I do agree with you, phys. ed teachers need to be more careful and take environmental stressors into consideration.

  5. Ronin Athletics permalink
    April 25, 2013

    Amazing advice.

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