Hot weather hard on athletes 

Exercising and activities in the heat can lead to health problems

The first sign of any kind of heat-related health problem is always thirst – by the time we’re thirsty, doctor’s say, we’re already showing signs of dehydration.

With daily high temperatures climbing into the 30s Celsius this summer, Whistler athletes are putting themselves at risk of heat cramps, heat exhaustion and even heat stroke. The effects of these heat problems can run from sore muscles, dizziness, headaches and nausea to full-blown hyperthermia. In rare cases heat-related illnesses can even cause brain damage and death.

While young children and the elderly are particularly susceptible to heat-related illnesses, athletes and people who work outside are also vulnerable.

It is estimated that 20 workers die each year in Canada as a result of the heat. There are no statistics for athletes, although heat illness is listed in the U.S. as the second most common cause of death for athletes under 40, after head injuries.

Health Canada warns that the number of cases of heat illness is likely to increase as average temperatures continue to climb across the country as a result of global warming. People are warned to expect longer hot spells, higher peak temperatures, and more extreme weather events – including hot spells in the spring and fall months.

People in Whistler should be aware of the risks says Jen Leigh, a public health nurse for Vancouver Coastal Health.

"It’s mostly the common sense things that people should be aware of," she said. "For one, you should avoid strenuous activities during the hottest time of the day, which is usually between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., but you should always use your judgement before and after that. If it feels hot, it’s hot."

You should also wear a hat, and light-coloured, loose-fitting clothing to deflect the sun. Never leave children or pets in parked cars, and be careful when entering a parked vehicle – a few minutes in a hot car can cause problems for drivers.

Everybody should drink about eight to 10 250mL glasses of water every day, says Leigh, and athletes should drink even more.

"Runners should drink an extra two cups of water 10 to 15 minutes before running, as well as another quarter-litre for every two to three kilometres they run. You should always drink before running or hiking and carry a water bottle with you at all times," said Leigh.

Energy drinks are good because they restore electrolytes and sodium to the body, as well as carbohydrates, but they should be mixed 50-50 with water.

The online B.C. Health Guide says athletes need to be aware of the risks. While sweating cools the body, it can also lead to dehydration if you don’t replenish your water supply.

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