Lungs and Fitness Heating Up

Asthma and heat related illnesses flare up with triple digit temperatures

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

Outdoor activities are usually a summer staple. It's great to be outside, but record-breaking heat requires protective strategies to keep things fun, fit and safe.

Personalizing fitness and heat strategies are in order based on individual abilities and needs. Those with chronic persistent asthma need an approach much different than an athlete-in-training.

Older people trying to maintain a fitness standard must have a different approach from children with asthma. Elderly people must try and avoid the tremendous heat altogether.

Beating the Heat While Being the Best You Can Be

With 10K running season just around the corner, many ambitious amateur athletes are anxious to get their miles in every week. During this heat wave, these goal-oriented athletes are trying to at least maintain and possibly add to their fitness levels. Dr. Stanley Fineman, M.D., M.B.A., President-Elect of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology says to, "In triple digit temperatures, even the fittest athletes without any lung conditions need to get their runs completed during the early morning hours."

Sometimes that doesn't work into their schedules. If this is the case Dr. Fineman suggests, "An indoor track or a treadmill is a much safer option for midday runs."

People who run with their dogs need to be careful with Fido. Dr. Fineman reminds that, "People have the protective mechanism of sweating that cools off their bodies. Dogs don't and the are also at risk for overheating." This is another good reason to keep those runs early in the morning.

For runners opened to cross training, he agrees that swimming any time of the day is a safe option for most people. Vigorous swimming can also help maintain and improve any athlete's fitness.

Water Seeks Its Own Level

While water doesn't have calories, it is a nutrient. Bodies are 55 to 70 percent water, which is between 10 and 12 gallons for an average adult. An office water cooler holds 5 gallons of water, so the makeup of the human body is more than twice that.

Water has an assisting role in almost all bodily functions, including:

  • Regulating body temperature
  • Keeps body from overheating during physical activity.
  • Prevents or minimizes headaches and dizziness brought on by dehydration
  • Assists breathing
  • Carries oxygen and nutrients to all cells
  • Protects organs
  • Assists food conversion into energy
  • Helps nutrient absorption
  • Helps remove waste

The thirst mechanism doesn't always accurately indicate a body's need for additional water. For a long time, it was suggested that everyone should drink eight glasses of water a day. Recent research has called that recommendation into question with regards to kidney health, but people should still make an attempt to keep themselves well hydrated. Additionally, a cup more for every 20 minutes of exercise is recommended. Also, if sweating or sick, even more fluids are added on top of that.

Asthma Patients in the Heat of the Day

During times of extreme heat and the related additional smog it brings, asthma attacks happen much more frequently. Children with asthma attending day camps and summer camps without air conditioning need to keep their steroid inhalers on board as prescribed by their allergist, suggests Dr. Fineman.

Hopefully, the camps are offering water-related sports because they are much safer in the heat. Also, be sure and notify the camp regarding your child's asthma so the nurse will be on call to address any medical emergencies.

For patients with chronic persistent asthma, the doctor recommends being faithful to their prescription medicine protocol and simply staying inside. If these people want to maintain their fitness, he suggests mall walking. Many malls across the country open early as a public service to accommodate those who struggle with the heat but still aspire to maintain their fitness level.

Remember if your condition worsens, contact your allergist for additional treatment.

Patients already diagnosed with asthma will possibly have their condition exacerbated by the high temperatures and additional smog that goes along with these temperatures. Be prepared: Take good care of yourself by taking medicines and keeping in contact with your allergist.

Elderly and the Heat

Precautions need to be taken for the elderly as temperatures rise to dangerous levels. The Birmingham Center for Aging has issued some common sense precautions to implement during the upcoming summer months.

Richard Allman, M.D., director of the University of Alabama at Birmingham Center for Aging reports that age-related changes in body temperature control put older people at higher risk with soaring temperatures. Fitness and function level of older people make a difference as well as the number of medicines they are taking.

Symptoms related to heat-related illness includes muscle cramps, tiredness, weakness, dizziness, headaches, nausea, vomiting, heavy sweating and fainting. According to Dr. Fineman, these are signs of a medical emergency and the patient or caregiver needs to seek immediate medical attention.

If the elderly person doesn't have air conditioning, try and visit local public places including malls, museums, libraries and churches during the very hottest times of the day. If they must be outside, be sure and drink plenty of fluids before doing so.

Dr. Allman also recommends keeping an eye on elderly neighbors and family members during the dangerously high temperatures by calling and visiting them twice a day to monitor them.

Please seek out medical assistance when elderly friends and neighbors become symptomatic of heat stress.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
July 26, 2011
Last Updated:
July 28, 2011