Protect Your Heart in the Heat

friends on a walk

Whatever brings you outside — a bike ride with friends, a jog in the park or just a stroll around the block — it’s important to stay safe when the temperature rises.

Tips for people with heart disease

Whether you are over 60, living with heart disease and reside in an urban area or you are an athlete who spends long periods of time being active outside, you might need to take special precautions in the heat.

Check with your health care professional before starting an exercise routine if you are experiencing symptoms or have a specific medical question or chronic disease. Certain heart medications, such as beta blockers, ace receptor blockers, ace inhibitors, calcium channel blockers and diuretics (which deplete the body of sodium), can exaggerate the body’s response to heat. But it’s always important to take your medications as prescribed unless told to do otherwise by your health care professional.

Tips for everyone

Think you’re ready to brave the heat? If you can, exercise with a friend because it’s safer — and more fun — to have someone at your side. It’s also best to avoid the outdoors in the early afternoon (about noon to 3 p.m.) because the sun is usually at its strongest, putting you at higher risk for heat-related illnesses.

Here are some other tips:

  • Get off on the right foot. You probably sweat the most in your shoes, so choose well-ventilated shoes and look for socks that repel perspiration. Foot powders and antiperspirants can also help with sweat.
  • Dress for the heat. Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing in breathable fabrics such as cotton or a synthetic fabric that repels sweat.
  • Stay sun safe. 30 minutes before you get outside, apply a water-resistant sunscreen with at least SPF 30 and reapply it every two hours. Adding a hat and UV-blocking sunglasses can also help protect your body from the heat.
  • Drink up. Stay hydrated by drinking a few cups of water before, during and after your exercise. Avoid caffeinated or alcoholic beverages.
  • Take regular breaks. Find some shade or a cool place, stop for a few minutes, hydrate and start again.

Routine exercise is a key part of heart health, so don’t let the heat keep you from being active! Just make sure to take steps to stay safe while you are outside in high temperatures.

Symptoms to watch for:

Heat stroke

  • High body temperature (103 degrees Fahrenheit or higher)
  • Hot, red, dry or damp skin
  • Fast, strong pulse
  • Headache, dizziness and confusion
  • Nausea
  • Passing out

Heat stroke is a medical emergency. If you think you are experiencing heat stroke and are conscious or if you see someone nearby experiencing one, call 911 immediately. Do not give the victim anything to drink, but move them to a cool place and help bring their body temperature down with cool clothes or a cool bath.

Heat exhaustion  
  • Headaches
  • Cool, pale and moist skin
  • Fast, weak pulse
  • Dizziness and light-headedness
  • Weakness or muscle cramps
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Passing out

If you experience these symptoms, move to a cooler place, stop exercising and cool down immediately by using cool wet cloths, compresses and fanning. You may need to seek medical attention.

Other symptoms of too much heat exposure

Heat cramps: Muscle pain or spasms caused by dehydration due to heavy sweating during exercise.

If you experience muscle cramps, stop your activity and move to a cooler place. Make sure you drink water or a sports drink. If your muscle cramps last longer than one hour, you’re on a low-sodium diet or you have preexisting heart conditions, seek medical attention.

Sunburn: Painful, red, hot and/or blistered skin caused by too much time outdoors without wearing a protective sunscreen.

If you get a sunburn, take a break from the sun until it heals. Move to a cool place. Moisturize your sunburn with lotion and keep cool with a cool bath or cool cloths. Do not break any blisters open.

Heat rash: Red clusters or small blisters on the skin that can look like pimples and usually accumulate on the neck, chest, groin or in elbow creases.

If you experience a heat rash, move to a cool, dry place. Keep your rash dry.