High School Athletes: Staying Safe in the Heat
Many high school athletes have already returned to sports camps in preparation for the fall season. The challenge is that during July, August and even September, we can experience some of the hottest days of the year. With the high temps, athletes need to be aware of how environmental factors like heat and humidity can affect their health and athletic performance.
How Heat Affects the Body
As heat and humidity rise our body has to work harder to cool off. Our bodies cool primarily through the evaporation of sweat. When temperatures rise, we produce more sweat to cool the body. As the humidity rises, it becomes more difficult for the sweat to evaporate hampering the ability of the body to cool off. It is one reason why it is important for athletes to drink fluids during the day and at practice to stay adequately hydrated, and to modify practice routines based on weather conditions.
Recommendations for Exercise in the Summer
Even before the temperatures start to soar, there are ways you can help get your body ready for practicing in the heat and staying safe when you do.
Acclimatization (Getting Used to the Temps)
Acclimating the body to exercising in the heat is important for staying safe. Hopefully by now youth athletes have been actively playing outside even before camps began. If jobs or activities have prevented it, try to start at least two weeks before camp. Begin by doing a small amount of exercise outdoors in the heat and humidity and gradually increase the amount and intensity of the exercise over the two weeks until reaching the level of activity that will be taking place during camp.
Remember, even when we are used to working out in the heat, we still require an increased level of water to stay hydrated but our bodies will be better able to tolerate the heat.
Pay Attention to the Heat Index
Heat index is a measure of combined heat and humidity or heat and dew point. This helps provide a sense of how hot it will feel to athletes, and their risk for heat-related illnesses.
The risk of heat-related illnesses varies based on the level of heat and humidity in the air. On sunny days, 5 to 15 degrees should be added to the heat index.
To learn more about heat index charts and how the heat index is calculated, these sites can be helpful resources:
National Weather Service Heat Index Calculator
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Heat Index Chart
OSHA Heat Safety Tool App
If you don’t have access to a heat index chart use the following as a loose guideline:
- Look at the weather forecast for both expected temperature and humidity
- Humidity is considered “high” when it is above 45-50 percent
- If the humidity level is above 50 percent, the practice plan for the day should be modified particularly with temperatures above 85 degrees
- When the dew point exceeds 55 degrees the amount of moisture in the air is becoming high
- When the dew point exceeds 65 degrees the air has very high levels of moisture, will be very uncomfortable, and is a high risk condition for a heat illness. The practice plan for the day should be modified in response to the extreme conditions.
When heat and humidity are high all activities should be modified to maintain a healthy level of hydration and a safe core temperature. A few things to consider:
- Take additional and longer water breaks
- Include rest times and use shady, cool areas for these breaks
- Move practice times to the early morning (before 10am) or evening (after 4pm)
- Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing
- Athletes in sports that require wearing protective equipment should alter practices and remove equipment during times of high heat and high humidity
As the season progresses, the heat and humidity will become less of an issue. But, with proper planning athletes can stay healthy and safe when on the practice field and during those early fall games.