Heat exhaustion is a condition that I have suffered at least once nearly every summer since entering my late 50’s. At this stage of life, eating well and drinking the daily requirement of water is simply not enough to avoid the effects of extreme heat and over exposure to sun. It also requires diligence and awareness regarding changes that occur with age, and understanding what your body will tolerate. Each of us is different, and my tolerance of heat will not be the same as yours.
Dizziness, excessive sweating, muscle cramps, rapid heart rate and nausea are symptoms of heat exhaustion. The last time I had this condition, (August, 2019) I had all of these symptoms except nausea. Additionally, I had a headache and slightly blurred vision.
The Perfect Storm
On that particular day, I was playing tennis with a heat index of 101 degrees and there was very little cloud cover to provide relief from the sun. I was not wearing a hat. I had two cups of coffee with my high protein breakfast and the 16 oz of water that I had consumed up to that point contained a small trace of sodium. I started drinking water about a half hour before playing tennis. My diet, at the time, was low in carbohydrates, mostly protein, with some natural sugar from fruit and vegetables. I had not consumed any alcohol the prior evening.
I have lived in Florida my entire life, and these are not unusual conditions for me. Although it has happened before, I was taken by surprise when I began to feel the effects of heat exhaustion after about one hour of play.
How We Reacted
Because it has happened to me before, and the friends I was playing with all recognize the symptoms of heat exhaustion, we knew I needed to get into shade, drop my head down on my lap and place a wet, cool towel on the back of my neck. My pulse was racing due to the excessive strain on my heart and I needed to get my body temperature down by taking these simple steps. That, along with drinking more water did the trick.
After about ten minutes, I was able to sit up without feeling dizzy, and my heart rate had completely returned to normal within about fifteen minutes. Needless to say, we ended the session and within forty-five minutes I felt comfortable enough to drive myself home. My body was lethargic and I had a headache for the remainder of the day.
If this had been an emergency, (non-responsive to initial treatment, experiencing vomiting or extreme fatigue), someone would have called 911. Heat exhaustion can turn into heat stroke very quickly and can be life threatening.
How I Could Have Avoided the Problem
The recommended intake of water for an adult female is 64 oz. per day, and that is with absolutely no exercise factored in. If you exercise moderately, add 2.5 cups, and even more if you live in a hot or dry climate, where dehydration can occur quickly. Active adults over 60 (like me) need even more during activity. Avoid caffeine and alcohol prior to strenuous activities, or at the very least, compensate with additional water.
*Use a hydration supplement. I have used both Gatorade and Drip Drop to supplement hydration and replenish electrolytes during exercise. Both are effective for me, but because I was omitting sugar from my diet for a few weeks, I had neither of those products with me and was using a homemade supplement of water, lemon juice and salt. That mixture is very effective for me under normal conditions.
*Wear loose fitting clothing made for sun protection.
*Wear a hat!!!
*Use sunscreen with an spf of 30 or above.
*Consider your diet, alcohol consumption, caffeine intake, energy level, general health, medications and weather conditions prior to heavy exercise, sun exposure, or both.
If you have not already picked out my mistakes from ‘the perfect storm’ above, I’ll recap them for you.
Bottom line, I slipped up and suffered the consequences. Don’t let that happen to you. Know your body, evaluate the conditions and pay attention to expert advice regarding what your body needs.
Note: Consuming too much water can be as dangerous as not consuming enough. Know the dangers of both and stay healthy.