By Jill Bauer
We are full swing into summer, and the heat and humidity are on the rise. What better way to have fun and engage in exercise than to spend time in the water.
The water is a great place to cool down and burn some extra calories without even realizing it. But when it comes to water, we must be safety-conscious for ourselves and our children. Staying out in the heat for prolonged periods of time, combined with inadequate hydration, can cause heat cramps, heat exhaustion or heat stroke. All ages are susceptible to this, particularly the very young and the very old.
The key to avoiding these heat-related conditions is prevention. Heat cramps is the least severe of the illnesses. The muscles in the legs and abdomen may experience cramping, and is often the first sign that the body is having difficulty with heat. This is caused by exposure to high heat and humidity, as well as loss of fluids and electrolytes.
Heat exhaustion is the result of loss of body fluids through heavy sweating and is much more severe than heat cramps. Even when you are on or in the water, you can lose fluids through sweating. Heat stroke is the most severe condition and can be life-threatening. One can lose the ability to sweat and cool the body; the temperature control system stops functioning. A dangerous elevation in body temperature can result in brain damage and even death if the body temperature is not cooled quickly.
The American Red Cross makes the following suggestions for preventing heat-related illness:
Dress for the heat. Wear lightweight, loose fitted and light colored clothing and a hat.
Stay well hydrated by drinking fluids before, during and after you engage in pool activities/exercise.
Eat small meals more often, avoiding foods high in protein, which increase metabolic heat.
Avoid strenuous activities during the hottest part of the day (11 a.m. to 3 p.m.)
Be aware of your local weather forecasts.
Now that we’ve discussed some of the risks of outdoor pool activity, let’s talk about the great health benefits that you can experience in the pool. It’s a terrific way to exercise because along with water’s natural resistance to movement, you can improve muscle strength and range of motion. Joint compression forces are reduced significantly secondary to buoyancy; those who may have arthritic conditions can experience a reduction in discomfort in their joints. Hydrostatic pressure produces a force perpendicular to the body which can decrease joint and soft tissue swelling. The pool is an excellent way to strengthen core and trunk muscles because the muscles have to work to keep you upright and balanced, especially with turbulence created in the water.
Now is the time to get moving and have fun, but be safe about outdoor exercise and swimming. Contact your physician before starting any exercise regimen if you have a medical condition.
Jill Bauer is a physical therapist with North Mississippi Medical Center’s Outpatient Rehabilitation Center at Longtown Medical Park. She has practiced for 18 years in orthopedics and general rehabilitation, and has special training in osteoporosis, aquatic therapy and back rehabilitation.