WOODSTOCK — Summer is a convenient time for many to take their usual workout routines outside or begin a new exercise plan.
Weather is generally nice, the sun is up for almost 15 hours a day, and the opportunity for adventure is nearly endless.
But since outdoor exercise comes with risks, area fitness professionals offer tips for how to stay safe in the sun this season.
Heat and humidity
First and foremost, start out slow. Whether you’re used to the treadmill or are starting a new walking plan, taking to the roads when it’s super hot is risky enough without trying to do too much too fast.
Start on cooler days walking 20 or 30 minutes, said Erin Kalbach, an exercise physiologist and fitness manager with Valley Health in Page and Shenandoah counties.
“You want to let your body acclimate to the weather,” she said. Starting out running when you’re not used to it, or going from air conditioning into the heat can be overwhelming, she explains, because working out in the heat expends more energy.
People are more sedentary in the winter, said Jennifer Wages, a fitness instructor and personal trainer with Valley Health Wellness & Fitness Center in Woodstock. When the weather gets warmer, they can be inclined to jump into a new routine without considering the costs.
“You kind of need to ease your way into it,” Wages said. “You don’t start out with your first walk of the summer with four miles.”
Humidity plays a factor, too.
A good rule of thumb, said Kalbach, is not exercising outside if the temperature and humidity percentage are both above 80.
Hold off until it’s cooler, such as in the morning or evening, or try doing half your usual routine, she said. Otherwise, you’re risking various health-related issues including heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
“Take breaks and go inside and get out of the heat,” Kalbach said.
Sunshine, while life-giving, comes with its own dangers during the summer if people aren’t protecting against UV rays or aren’t hydrating enough.
Some risks of staying in the sun too long are dehydration, heat cramps, headaches, sunburn and heat exhaustion, but all of these problems can be avoided by planning ahead.
Drink water regularly while outside and especially while working out, said Kalbach. She recommends drinking eight glasses of water a day, but also adding two ounces of water every 15-20 minutes of exercise in the heat.
“You want it to be water,” she said, dispelling ideas of turning to sports drinks, which can be loaded with salt, sugar and dyes.
“Water’s a very resourceful tool,” she said. In addition to hydrating, water can help people decrease or avoid muscle cramps and headaches.
To protect against sunburn and cancer-causing UV rays, Kalbach suggests wearing sunscreen containing an SPF of 30. Make sure to apply sunscreen 15 minutes before heading outside so the lotion has time to sink in, and reapply every couple hours or more if swimming or sweating excessively.
Sunhats, ball caps and sunglasses with UV protection also help shield faces and eyes from the sun.
The Mayo Clinic recommends choosing sunglasses that do the following:
- Block 99 to 100 percent of both UVA and UVB rays
- Screen out 75 to 90 percent of visible light
- Have lenses that are perfectly matched in color and free of distortions and imperfections
- Have lenses that are gray for proper color recognition
Swimming is a great summer workout because it works your whole body while keeping you cool outside.
It’s a go-to workout for Janet Poyser, of Edinburg, who said she’ll swim with or without her kids.
“I love to swim when I can,” she said.
She also seeks out other outdoor workouts, such as walking, jogging and hiking — often choosing to walk with hand weights.
It’s a great way to “enjoy the sunshine without my children,” she joked, though she’s also been known to walk with her kids or jog with a double jogger stroller.
Poyser has been using the Wellness & Fitness Center in Woodstock since February and especially loves the center’s child-minding service so she can work out at the facility’s air-conditioned gym while her young son, 2, and daughters, 3 and 6, are occupied.
“I was very grateful to find out about child minding," she said. "It’s a gift."
When it comes to outdoor exercise, clothing makes a difference for the sake of comfort and for protection against the sun and other threats.
Loose-fitting, moisture-wicking clothes are best for walking and running outside, Kalbach said. The breathable material allows heat to escape the body, and light-colored material reflects sun instead of trapping it the way dark colors do.
If hiking, wear proper footwear to protect feet and ankles from injury. The Health Department recommends socks and long pants — preferably pants tucked into socks — to protect against ticks. Treat clothing with an insecticide that includes DEET or picaridin to ward off bites from ticks and mosquitoes.
If cycling, wear clothes and footwear that won’t get caught in the bike.
Finding the fun
Exercise doesn’t have to be intentional or feel like a workout.
Kalbach suggested including kids in a workout to make it more fun and increase the chances you’ll want to do it.
“We do planks at home,” she said of workouts with her 9-year-old daughter. “I make it fun.”
“She gardens with me,” Kalbach said.
Recently, she and her daughter ran around the house with water guns, which Kalbach said was a fun way to burn calories.
Workouts also don’t have to be separate from daily activities, Wages said.
Anything you do can be a workout, such as kayaking, taking the stairs instead of an elevator, or even hanging laundry on a clothesline.
“You don’t have to be walking laps,” Wages says. “Just move.”
Try doing push-ups against a kitchen counter, she said. Do calf raises while waiting in a grocery store line, or walk while talking on the phone.
“Park farther away [from buildings],” Kalbach added. “It won’t hurt you.”
Any way of adding more steps or movements to your day can help your health, said Wages, who also recommends standing and walking around more often throughout the workday to increase circulation and help prevent back and neck pain.
“Just being generally more active,” she said. “It’s hard to make up for sitting all day.”
By including outdoor activity in the mix, Wages agreed there’s so much for potential for people to build exercise into their day.
“This is the perfect time to go out and do all those things,” she said.
Correction: This story has been updated to remove mention of a pool at Valley Health Wellness & Fitness Center. The center doesn't have a pool.