Hydrate to Beat the Heat

While parts of the nation put up with summer heat of 100 degrees or higher, those of us in South Florida muddle through stifling humidity and intermittent rainstorms.

While our tropical mix of heat and humidity rarely jumps higher than the mid-90s, active South Floridians (particularly outdoor laborers and those trying new exercise routines such as jogging, cycling or even brisk walking) need to protect themselves from dehydration.

Dehydration occurs when you lose more fluid than you take in, and your body doesn’t have enough water and other fluids to carry out its normal functions. If you don’t replace lost fluids, you may become severely dehydrated. Severe dehydration requires immediate medical attention, to avoid progression to heat stroke, which can result in death or cause damage to the brain and other internal organs.

Common causes of dehydration include intense diarrhea, vomiting, fever or excessive sweating. Not drinking enough water during hot weather or exercise also may cause dehydration. Anyone may become dehydrated, but young children, older adults and people with chronic illnesses are most at risk.

However, dehydration is quite preventable, even in the Miami heat and humidity. The problem with South Florida’s unique climate is that humidity affects how easily sweat evaporates from skin. Sweat must be evaporated to cool off the body. When humidity is 60 percent or greater, it is difficult for sweat to evaporate into the air.

“Sweat is our body’s way of keeping cool, but when we perspire we lose body fluids and that can lead to dehydration,” said Agueda Hernandez, M.D., the medical director of the Family Medicine Center at West Kendall Baptist Hospital. “Drinking water or other fluids is a must before you head outdoors to exercise. And keeping hydrated during intense running or other activity in the heat is vital.”

Here are some tips to staying hydrated during exercise or outdoor activities:

  • Drink plenty of water before, during, and after exercise.
  • Take a container of water or sports drink with you when you exercise.
  • Try to drink at least every 15 to 20 minutes, or as needed.
  • Use a sports drink if you will be exercising for longer than one hour.
  • Do not drink coffee, colas, or other drinks that contain caffeine. They increase urine output and make you dehydrate faster.
  • If you are on a high-protein diet, make sure that you drink at least 8 to 12 glasses of water each day.
  • Avoid alcohol, including beer and wine. They increase dehydration and make it hard to make good decisions.
  • If possible, exercise very early in the day or very late to avoid the hottest parts of the day.
  • “If you take the right precautions, there is no reason you can’t get your exercise or have fun in the outdoors even in our weather,” Hernandez said.

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