Learning how to safely walk in the heat is imperative if you want to continue a healthy exercise regime.
There are a variety of steps you can take to protect yourself from heat illness. The cornerstone of prevention is water. If you intend to exercise in hot weather, you need to drink plenty of water before, during, and after your walks.
You should drink 2 or 3 cups of cold water about 10 to 20 minutes before you begin walking. During your walk, drink at least a couple more cups of cold water. When you finish walking, drink water again. Don't rely on thirst to tell you when to drink; it's not always an adequate guide to your body's need for fluid.
Another important preventive measure is to slow down your pace and intensity when the temperature is high, especially during the first few days of a hot spell. By walking for a shorter time at a lower intensity early on, you'll give your body a chance to adjust its cooling mechanism to the heat.
During hot weather, you should schedule your walking workouts for the coolest part of the day -- early morning or evening. Avoid walking late in the morning or during the afternoon when the sun's rays are most powerful.
Also, try walking in shaded areas, such as parks, forest preserves, and tree-lined streets. If there's a breeze, walk with the breeze at your back during the first half of your walk. Then, for the second half of your workout, when you're hot and sweaty, walk into the breeze.
Proper clothing can also help you beat the heat. In hot, humid weather, wear as little as you can. Choose breathable fabrics that will allow your sweat to evaporate. (Cotton is an acceptable choice because it absorbs perspiration and allows sweat to evaporate.)
Wear lightweight shorts and a loose-fitting T-shirt or tank top, or try a fishnet vest that lets air in and out. Also, be sure to choose light colors that reflect the sun's rays. If chafing is a problem, spread a little petroleum jelly on your skin in the affected areas.
Many walkers wear jogging outfits, which are available in various materials and designs. If you want to wear a jogging suit, make sure to get one that is made of a porous material.
In warm or hot weather, you don't want heat and moisture to be trapped; you want it to circulate and escape to keep your body cool. So your warm-weather walking outfit should be made of either cotton or a lightweight, porous synthetic fiber and it should fit loosely without getting in your way.
Whatever you do, shun rubber, plastic, or otherwise nonporous sweatsuits. They create a hot, humid environment and interfere with the evaporation of sweat. Wearing them makes you an easy target for dehydration, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke.
In addition, it's a misperception that the more you sweat, the faster you'll slim down: You'll promptly regain that lost weight as soon as you rush to the water fountain.
When you dress for hot, sunny weather, don't forget to cover your head. The head is the first part of the body struck by the powerful rays of the sun. By protecting your head, you can help control your body temperature when you walk.
A lightweight, light-colored cap can help reflect the sun's rays. You may even want to try soaking it in cold water before you put it on.
To protect your skin from the sun's burning rays and help ward off skin cancer, be sure to apply a strong sunscreen to all exposed areas of your skin. Choose a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or more. You may even want to try a waterproof sunscreen, since you'll be sweating quite a bit.
Perhaps your most important protection against heat illness is knowing when to slow down and when to get inside. Regardless of your physical condition, you need to take into account more than the temperature of the air.
Humidity can be a dangerous element during a strenuous walk. Learn about walking in humidity on the next page.
To learn more about walking, see: