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July 11th, 2012

Summer weather can be tough on your heart

Summertime often means afternoon strolls, bike rides, baseball, swimming and other outdoor activities. And while the sunny days may make for great beach weather, the American Heart Association warns that extreme heat can be hard on the heart.

“As temperatures rise, so can your risk for suffering health issues like heat exhaustion and heat stroke,” said David Violante, AHA Board Member and Arlington Fire EMS Assistant Director, “So it’s important that people take simple steps to protect their hearts while in the heat.”

Staying physically active all year long is imperative to good heart health.  The American Heart Association reports that physically active people can reduce their risk for cardiovascular disease by nearly 30%. So during the hot summer months, it’s important that you take the right precautions:

• Follow the doctor’s orders. If you are a heart patient, over the age of 50, overweight or just starting an exercise program, be sure to check with your doctor for your best exercise routine.

• Try to watch the clock. It’s best to avoid the outdoors in the early afternoon (about noon to 3 p.m.) because the sun is usually at its strongest, putting you at higher risk for heat-related illnesses.

• Get off on the right foot. You probably sweat the most in your shoes, so choose well-ventilated shoes and look for socks that repel perspiration. Foot powders and antiperspirants can also help with sweat.

• Dress for the heat. Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing in breathable fabrics such as cotton, or a newer fabric that repels sweat. Add a hat and/or sunglasses.

• Drink up. Before you get started, apply a water-resistant sunscreen with at least SPF 15, and reapply it every two hours. Stay hydrated by drinking a few cups of water before, during and after your exercise. Avoid caffeinated or alcoholic beverages.

• Take regular breaks. Find some shade or a cool place, stop for a few minutes, hydrate and start again.

People can adapt their normal exercise routines when the heat is on. Walking inside air-conditioned buildings, going for a swim or using exercise videos are great substitutes for outdoor exercise.

It’s important to know the signs and symptoms when you may be experiencing too much heat.

Symptoms of heat exhaustion:

• headaches

• heavy sweating 

• cold, moist skin, chills 

• dizziness or fainting (syncope) 

• a weak and rapid pulse 

• muscle cramps 

• fast, shallow breathing 

• nausea, vomiting or both

If you experience these symptoms, move to a cooler place, stop exercising and cool down immediately by dousing yourself with cold water and rehydrating. You may need to seek medical attention if the situation does not improve.

Symptoms of heat stroke:

• warm, dry skin with no sweating 

• strong and rapid pulse 

• confusion and/or unconsciousness 

• high fever 

• throbbing headaches 

• nausea, vomiting or both

If you experience these symptoms, seek medical attention right away.

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