With the right precautions, running in heat and humidity can boost fitness

Credit: Nathan Bilow/Allsport
To become a fit runner, it takes training three to five days per week year round for two years.

Don't let the weather get in the way.

Training on treadmills and cardio machines will help maintain fitness when the weather is bad, but you can't hibernate every winter or remain indoors on the hottest days of summer.

Staying in motion week after week through all kinds of weather is essential.

It takes about two weeks of training in 80-degree heat to give your body enough time to adapt. During this time, you must really slow down. When 90-degree temperatures arrive during the "dog days of summer," it will take another two weeks to adapt to the extra 10 degrees.

If you make up your mind to train toward a specific goal, the circumstances of daily weather will hardly ever deter you.

I watch autumn leaves fall while I remain in motion. Winter is approaching when the grass dusted with early-morning frost crunches beneath my feet. My favorite time of year is spring, when leaves unfurl and flowers are all around my running path.

The two best training environments in which to maximize aerobic fitness are training at high altitudes or working out in the heat and humidity.

Build a base of aerobic conditioning by running or walking slower for longer periods. It doesn't take much intensity (pace) to get your heart rate up when it is hot.

Steve Born, author of The Endurance Athlete's Guide to Success, says that athletes acclimated to heat "can reduce electrolyte (sodium and other minerals) and fluid loss (through sweating) up to 50 percent."

Remain well-hydrated. Get into the habit of sipping water all day long. Carry and consume water or a sports drink during every run or walk. Taking in too little fluid may result in heat sickness and painful cramps. Excessively hydrating could lead to hyponatremia (low blood sodium), which has killed several young and otherwise healthy marathoners recently.

How much is enough? Most research recommends that the average endurance athlete should take in 16 - 24 fluid ounces per hour during exercise.

Older runners and those possessing a higher percentage of body fat are more susceptible to heat stress.

Leg cramps, dizziness, increased heart rate, headache, and nausea are the initial symptoms of heat exhaustion, which could lead to (possibly fatal) heat stroke. Anyone experiencing these indicators should stop exercising immediately, get to a cool place, and continue to hydrate slowly. If you cannot keep fluids down, go to the emergency room.

Mark Higginbotham, a certified running coach and personal trainer, is the founder of Memphis In Motion. He teaches monthly classes on fitness and nutrition and leads adult walking, running and marathon training programs locally.

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