What is heat injury?
There are several forms of heat injury which are usually caused by exercise participation in extreme heat or a lack of fluid intake (dehydration).
The three main forms of heat injury are:
- Heat cramps
- Heat exhaustion (exercise-associated collapse)
- Heat stroke
The human body is well adapted to cope with the strains of exercise. Our methods of cooling the body, mainly through sweating, are far superior to most other mammals.
When exercising in conditions where the environmental temperature exceeds the body temperature, sweating is the primary method for cooling the body. This works through the evaporation of sweat, from the skins surface.
In dry heat conditions this method works well, however as humidity (lots of moisture in the air) increases, the rate of evaporation is much lower as the air is already saturated with water vapor. This greatly decreases the beneficial effects of sweat production. Exercise in these warm and humid conditions should be avoided if possible.
As well as high environmental temperature, heat is also produced by the body whilst exercising due to an increase in metabolic rate and muscle activity. It is possible to acclimatise the body to performing in hot conditions over time, due to adaptations within the respiratory, circulatory and musculoskeletal systems. Once acclimatised to training in hot weather, the body initiates the sweating response earlier, increases the amount we sweat and dilutes the sweat produced so that it contains less sodium.
How to prevent heat injury?
- Participate in sports and exercise in the morning or evenings if possible. Avoid exercising in the middle of the day when the sun is at its strongest
- Drink regularly throughout and after the exercise to avoid dehydration. Do not wait until you feel thirsty
- Ensure you have undertaken effective pre-season training and acclimatisation so that your body can adapt
- Wear lightweight, light coloured and porous materials to exercise in
- Take more breaks than normal when exercising in hot weather
- If you or someone else starts to feel unwell, immediately find some shade, lay down with the legs elevated, remove any additional clothing and consume a sports drink containing electrolytes
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