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Avoiding heat stroke on summertime runs

Doug Casa offers some tips for avoiding heat

Doug Casa offers some tips for avoiding heat stroke while exercising during the summer months. (July 10, 2013) Photo Credit: iStock

When Doug Casa, then a 16-year-old distance runner at Newfield High School in Selden, collapsed and nearly died from heat stroke during a race in August 1986, he made a vow. "I decided I was going to use this experience to try and save as many lives as possible from what had almost killed me," says Casa, who grew up in Selden.

He made good on his promise. Today, Casa is an exercise scientist and chief executive officer of the Korey Stringer Institute at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, named for the NFL player who died of heat stroke at a preseason practice in August 2001.

The research Casa and his colleagues do at the institute and elsewhere has led to new insights into how the average exerciser can successfully train in summer.

"We know a lot now about how to keep people safe and cool in the heat," says Casa.

Here are some tips, based on the latest research:

Chill out before you work out

Research has confirmed the value of an icy drink for hot weather exercisers. It could be a Slurpee or a sports drink you put overnight in the freezer, and then defrost. Drink it, Casa says, "and your core temperature is going to stay one degree cooler during the activity. That's significant. And you'll perform better." No need for a Big Gulp, either: "A cyclist filling up a standard 24-ounce water bottle with an icy sports drink and sipping it during their ride is going to feel a whole lot better in the heat," says Casa.

Deposit your heat here

"In the Army, we've been using a technique called 'heat dumping,'" says Dr. Francis O'Connor, professor at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Washington, D.C. "At Airborne School, they'll run them through cold showers. During basic training, we have troughs filled with chilled water, so people can roll up their sleeves and dip their arms in there."

By briefly immersing the body in cold water, it disperses, or "dumps," some of the heat it is generating. You can plan your walking or running route to include your own heat dumps. "It could be a kiddie pool or a row of sprinklers," O'Connor says. And it doesn't even have to be water. You can improve your exercise performance by standing in air-conditioning for 30 to 60 seconds before you resume.

Joe to go: cold or hot, caffeine still helps

A recent study conducted at the University of Arkansas by Matthew Ganio found that caffeine is just as effective for improving performance in the heat as it is in the cold. And it won't significantly raise your body temperature or dehydrate you. "Having caffeine before and during exercise in the heat will lower that feeling of muscle pain when you're exercising," Ganio says. For the average person, 200 milligrams of caffeine -- about two small cups of coffee -- is sufficient to feel the exercise benefits.

Don't forget the basics of outdoor activity in summer

"The fitter you are, the easier you can handle heat," says Casa, who now lives in Storrs but spends his summer vacations in Montauk. "Make sure you go out earlier, take more breaks and modify the intensity. If you don't feel well, don't be stubborn . . . back off."

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