Many of us with chronic conditions are in the unfortunate situation of needing exercise yet at the same time, we are heat sensitive (sensitive is an understatement in my view, but it is what it is). Exercise makes us hot – or at least warmer than normal, depending on the intensity of our routines. How can we get through summer and keep up our exercise regime? We need to keep pain and stiffness away!
For those of us not native to Australian heat, it may be even more challenging. Well before I got sick, way back in 1974, I arrived in Melbourne on a February day. 38 degrees Celsius. Up until that point in my life, 23 degrees was a warm day! I thought I’d landed in Hades! I had a girlfriend living in Adelaide at the time whom I visited. If my memory serves, over there it was 43 degrees. I remember lying on her kitchen tiles to try to keep cool.
Earlier today I saw the magpie above, pictured here keeping cool under the protection of the leaves, with beak open and wings lifted from his body to maximise heat loss. I missed that image, but was pleased to see him looking cooler.
Over the years I had somewhat acclimatised, until I got sick. For many of us, heat intolerance/sensitivity is entirely new, so how best to cope?
Ensure Your Gym is Properly Cooled
This gives you some flexibility with staying active. Today, I will be walking inside, not outside. Treadmills are not my preference, I much prefer walking outside, but I found even walking at 6 pm last night uncomfortable and we are nowhere near summer yet.
Allow yourself to cool down before you venture outside.
If you can, swimming is a great exercise and the environment is cool. Getting to and from the pool may not be so cool, but with good air con in the car and a close car park most of us should manage.
If you have never learnt to swim, think about lessons. In addition to the physical benefits, swimming has been shown to have mental health benefits, so important to those of us managing chronic illness.
You may need to invest in a rashie for adequate UV protection depending on the time of day you prefer to swim.
I wrote Hydration Habits – Are You Drinking Enough? recently, so I refer you to that article for the detail. Make sure you hydrate before, during and after exercise.
Cool Your Skin During Exercise
I have lesions on my left arm, the result of medication-related photosensitivity, which become bright red when I exercise. I run my arm under cold water between sets. A wet towel on your face, chest or back can help. Some gyms have large fans facing the cardio equipment – turn them on.
Change Your Routine
In Victoria we are into daylight savings time. Use it to your advantage. The UV danger window has shifted an hour and the evenings are lighter. Check the UV ratings every day, work around it. If walking outside, walk later when it is cooler, or earlier if you are an early riser. Early is not an option for many with chronic conditions as our energy levels seem quite depleted most mornings.
If you have access to a hydrotherapy pool, this can be an alternative to strength workouts in the gym. I find the water temperature a little warm for me personally, but I still do exercises in it. A quick dip in the normal pool to cool off before the trip home is a sensible move, or a cool shower.
Wear Light, Loose Clothing
I’m a minimal clothing person in summer, I always have been. The concept of long-sleeve shirts, rashies in the pool, sunnies and hats was never my style. Now I own long-sleeved shirts of 50+ protection fabric. Of course, while this helps my photosensitivity, it doesn’t help my heat sensitivity as much! Learn to juggle the clothing style, time of exercise and type of exercise that best suits your personality. Why is your personality important? Because we are all more likely to do something we are enjoying. If we HAVE to wear a hat and we hate hats, we will be less likely to go for that walk. Better to change the time so we don’t need the hat.
It is getting warmer now, so now is the time to experiment and plan for the warmer times coming. Know what you will do on really hot days, so when they arrive you are prepared. Know what temperature is your definite “Don’t leave the house” temperature. What will you do those days, to keep yourself moving? Double your stretches, maybe. Use thera-bands. Do body-weight squats and push-ups at home. Leg lifts with ankle weights. There are options. These ankle weights of mine have 4 x 575 gram removable weights, so super adjustable for home use.
If you are in a pacing UP phase, the UP may need to be put on hold on really hot days – it just may not be sensible to have that level of exertion. That’s OK, just keep moving.
When all else fails – get a manicure! At least the salon will be cool.