Spring has sprung and summer is just around the corner. It's not just nature's flora and fauna coming back to life. Many of you may already be outdoors, tending lawns and planting gardens. Outdoor youth sports have returned and maybe you've noticed you're able to walk the dog a bit more comfortably.

Ask anyone working in the field of heart health and they'll tell you – staying active is one of the most important things a person can do to help curb obesity, lower the chances of heart disease and live a healthier life. But the American Heart Association points out, when temperatures rise, being active outdoors can be more challenging. It’s quite easy to get overheated during sun-drenched parts of the day. Those warm temperatures also bring high humidity to this part of the country. That moisture in the air prevents sweat from evaporating as quickly as it does in dryer times of the year, so your body has a harder time releasing heat.

If you're ready to get active, check with your healthcare professional before starting an exercise routine or moving your workout outdoors if you're dealing with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, or other chronic disease. Certain medications like beta blockers, ace receptor blockers, ace inhibitors, calcium channel blockers and diuretics can exaggerate the body’s response to heat—and not in a good way.

Some tips to keep in mind, from the AHA:

— Timing is key: Try to avoid exercising outside in the early afternoon. It’s usually hottest between noon and 3 p.m.

— Hydrate: Drink water before, during and after physical activity, even if you don’t feel thirsty. Bring a bottle of water with you, or plan water stops along your route.

— Dress for success: Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothes. Moisture-wicking fabric can also be a big help. Protect yourself from the sun with sunglasses, a hat or visor and plenty of sweat-resistant sunscreen.

— Listen to your body: Take frequent breaks in the shade, and drink water before you’re thirsty. Allow yourself time to adapt to the heat—some experts say that this can take about 4-14 days. You may not be able to work out as long or as hard as usual when it’s very hot.

If you can, work out with a partner for safety (and accountability, if you're trying to stay on a routine). Try light, healthy pre- and post-workout snacks, such as cold salads, fruit smoothies that can also help you stay cool.

Stay hydrated. Dehydration can occur when you don’t replace body fluids lost by sweating. Being even slightly dehydrated can make you feel out of sorts and put you at greater risk for heat-related illnesses like heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Watch for signs, like:

— Thirst

— Dry or sticky mouth

— Dry, cool skin

— Headache

— Muscle cramps

— Not urinating much or darker-colored urine.

— Cramps can signal heat exhaustion. Other symptoms include:

— Cool, moist skin

— Heavy sweating

— Headache

— Nausea or vomiting

— Dizziness

— Light headedness

— Weakness

— Thirst

— Irritability

— Fast heartbeat

Sit or lie down in a cool, shady area. Drink plenty of water or other cool beverages and use cold compresses/ice packs if necessary.

If your condition worsens or does not improve within an hour, get to a clinic or emergency room for medical evaluation.

With heat stroke, the stakes are much higher. Call 911 if any of the following applies:

— Confusion

— Fainting

— Seizures

— Excessive sweating or red, hot, dry skin

— Very high body temperature (above 104°).

While waiting for help, move to a shady, cool area. Loosen or remove outer clothing. Use fans, cool with water, ice packs or cool compresses. Provide fluids (preferably water) as soon as possible. Stay with the person until help arrives.

Here's to a healthy, safe and rewarding summer.


Dr. Michael Liston is a cardiologist with the St. Mary’s Heart Center and can be reached at 816-220-1117.