Deadliest summer waves aren’t at the beach

Summertime is when many of us get more exercise — jogging, swimming, playing ball, biking and doing other outdoor activities. But when you are outside during the warmer months, you have to watch out for the type of wave that is the most deadly — and it isn’t a tsunami.

It’s a heatwave.

If you’re an outdoor exerciser, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on the temperature and humidity when you’re planning your activities. When both the temperature and humidity climb, your body has a harder time cooling down. That can be dangerous especially as you get older.

As researchers at Penn State point out, heat at any age can put a strain on your heart, but the effect is magnified with the passing years.

“If you exercise vigorously in the heat, the strain is even greater (as you age). And, if you have heart disease and exercise vigorously in the heat, you may be in a dangerous situation,” says researcher W. Larry Kenney, who teaches physiology and kinesiology.

Kenney says that heatwaves kill more people annually than tornadoes, hurricanes or volcanoes. And, if you’re over the age of 65 you are at least 10 times more likely to die during a heatwave than a younger person.

To deal with the heat, your body pumps more blood to the skin to radiate heat. But Kenney’s studies show that when you are older, even if you are physically fit, your body is less efficient at this process and the heart has to work harder to keep you cool.

Kenney says that by exercising: “You can make the temperature regulatory system better, but you can’t make it young again.”

I’m one of those sweataholics who love getting a good sweat on in the hot summer sun. But I don’t overdo it. The trick, I think, is to persevere as long as the sweat feels detoxifying but stop when the heat starts to feel stressful.

Here are some tips for keeping cool during extremely hot weather, and during activity in the summer heat:

  • Gradually acclimate yourself to the heat. Don’t overdo it on the first few hot days. Most heat illnesses strike in the first few exercise sessions on warmer days.
  • Drink water to excess of thirst. If you’re not thirsty but you’re drinking plenty of fluids, that’s good, you’re keeping hydrated.
  • Use your common sense. If you think it feels too hot to exercise, it probably is.
  • If you are on prescription medicine, talk to your healthcare practitioner or pharmacist about its effects. Many medicines compromise your ability to exercise in the heat. Illnesses like heart disease or diabetes also increase the difficulty.
  • If you’re exercising and feel like you’re getting too hot, stop immediately and let your body’s cooling system catch up. Get immediate help if you feel as though you’re getting sick from the heat.

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Carl Lowe

By Carl Lowe

has written about health, fitness and nutrition for a wide range of publications including Prevention Magazine, Self Magazine and Time-Life Books. The author of more than a dozen books, he has been gluten-free since 2007.