Playing it Safe on City Soccer Fields

By John Senn

I love soccer. I’ve played since I was eight years old and was even able to go to the 2006 World Cup in Germany. But when I moved to New York City from Montana almost five years ago, not only did my vistas change from tall mountains to tall buildings, I also swapped grass soccer fields for turf fields, the norm for this area.

I was a little surprised to learn that the turf soccer fields that I played on every week—including during the summer when temperatures in Manhattan were well over 90 degrees—were among the hottest surfaces in the city because they absorbed and radiated heat more readily than other surfaces and could reach 160 degrees at field level. Working out at those temperatures, even for a short time, could easily lead to dehydration and heat exhaustion. (The Mayo Clinic has more information on how your body deals with extreme heat and how best to deal with it.)

Polluted air, an issue in the New York metropolitan area most of the year, only compounds the stress your body faces from working out in hot weather. Not only are your heart and lungs working harder, you’re breathing polluted air at an increased rate.

Breathing polluted air can make your eyes and nose burn. It can irritate your throat and make breathing difficult. In fact, pollutants like tiny airborne particles and ground level ozone can trigger respiratory problems, especially for people with asthma. Today, nearly 30 million adults and children in the United States have been diagnosed with asthma. Asthma sufferers can be severely affected by air pollution. Air pollution can also aggravate health problems for the elderly and others with heart or respiratory diseases.

When it’s hot out, check EPA’s AirNow website to monitor the air quality of your area by typing in your zip code. You’ll be able to see if any pollutants are at high levels for that day and if you or members of your family (some people are more sensitive to changes in air quality, especially young children, the elderly and people with asthma) should take any precautions before heading outside.

Most people wear shin guards as a precaution when taking the soccer field. Knowing the air quality before you head outside for a workout, especially when it’s hot out, is another way to make sure your workout does more good than harm.