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Too Hot for Outdoor Sports?

26 July 2016

Summer usually means more time to dedicate to sports teams and pick-up games. It also means higher outdoor temperatures. Both adolescent and adult athletes need to be aware of the risks of overheating and pay special attention to signs that it’s happening.

Dangers of Dehydration

Hot, dry weather can be extremely dangerous for people who play sports outdoors. In high heat and low humidity, sweat evaporates rapidly. This results in people feeling less sweaty and not noticing how much water they lose. Dehydration can happen quickly. It only takes losing 1-2% of your body's water content for dehydration to begin to set in.

Many people mistakenly believe that they should control the amount that they drink. Some people think that you should only sip small quantities of fluid because the body cannot take in more than a little at a time. However, research indicates that you absorb more fluid by drinking greater quantities at once. As an example, a player who needs to drink 15 ounces every hour will get better mileage from drinking 5 ounces every 20 minutes than by sipping 2.5 ounces every 10 minutes.

Symptoms of dehydration start with increased thirst. As dehydration progresses, a person may experience a dry mouth and swollen tongue, dizziness, weakness, and sluggishness. In severe cases they can experience heart palpitations, confusion or fainting. Someone who is dehydrated should be taken out of the heat and given water to drink. In extreme cases, seek medical attention.

For all but the most intensive training, plain water hydrates best. A person also needs foods throughout the day that contain some sodium, such as bagels, canned tuna, olives or vegetable juices. This ensures electrolyte levels stay at safe amounts.


When humidity is high, on the other hand, sweating is less effective at cooling the body, leading to overheating. Sweat simply drips off instead of evaporating. Even at relatively cooler temperatures, high humidity results in a build-up of body heat.

This can be an especially persistent problem for people in high humidity states like Florida and Alabama. In a five-year study of weather conditions in Alabama, scientists found that there were no days during the month of August that were considered naturally safe for football practice or games.

The most common heat-related problems are heat exhaustion and heatstroke. Early symptoms of both of these can include goose bumps, a dull headache, a tingling sensation in the skin and nausea. Perversely, many people will feel a chill when they are overheating. In 50% of heatstroke cases, people eventually stop sweating.

As heatstroke progresses, the body's temperature can rise as high as 104° to 106°. Sufferers may feel agitated, confused or lethargic. The nervous system, including the brain, is vulnerable to damage when temperatures get too high. If heatstroke is suspected, it's important to seek medical attention right away.

Keep Cool During Sports

By taking care to watch temperatures and provide relief for players, it is possible to safely play sports during the hottest days of summer. To stay safe and comfortable:

  • Make sure there is plenty of water available. Players should drink as much as they want to keep well hydrated.
  • Require that everyone break for water at least every 30 minutes. If possible, take a full 10 minutes to drink water and cool down from activity.
  • Keep a cooler of wet towels. These should be iced down to provide quick cooling for overheated athletes.
  • Alter uniforms to make them cooler. If there are under-layers that can be taken off or lighter options, pick those over heavier clothing.
  • Take off equipment between plays. Safety equipment like helmets and pads can retain heat. Whenever a player is off the field, remove what can be easily taken off to keep them cooler.
  • Monitor players for signs of heatstroke.
  • Be flexible on practice and game times and try to schedule them when its coolest.
  • Allow at least two hours between games if you have multiple matches scheduled for the same day. Schedulers might need to ne reminded of this at the beginning of the season.
  • Head indoors when possible. See if an air-conditioned gym space is available to take the place of outdoor fields.
  • Check the humidity and temperatures every half hour. If the heat index goes over 104°, consider stopping until later in the day. The team needs the break more than it needs to practice in such temperatures.

Physical activity should be part of you and your kids' or students lives throughout the year. To make sure you stay safe and healthy while you stay active, watch the thermometer and keep well hydrated. This keeps summer sports fun while protecting your health.