Top 10 Ways to Avoid Heat Illnesses this Summer

August 12, 2014, 10:06am EDT

As the mercury in your outdoor thermometers rises to triple digit levels, it is important to maintain a healthy body temperature. People with chronic disease and those taking medications, such as immunosuppressive drugs, need to be especially careful. As more than 1,200 immune-suppressed athletes train for the 2010 National Kidney Foundation U.S. Transplant Games, NKF's fitness expert Chris L. Wells, PhD, offers 10 ways to avoid heat illnesses this summer.


  1. Train for your sports. The higher your fitness level the less likely you will be to experience a heat illness. Spectators, increase your walking or other exercise.

  2. It is recommended to begin increasing your fluid intake at least a couple of weeks before the sporting event to improve your body's ability to utilize the fluid for heat dissipation.

  3. Slowly increase your training in the weather conditions in which you will be competing.

  4. Select loose fitting, light color clothing.

  5. Pre-hydrate (increase your fluids the day of your event). Avoid alcohol and caffeinated beverages. It is recommended to drink a mixture of water and a sports drink (2/3 to 1/3). Too much concentrated sport drink can lead to GI distress.

  6. Drink throughout the events. If you become thirsty, you are already dehydrated and at increase risk of developing a heat illness.

  7. Eat well-rounded meals and increase your fluid intake at meals.

  8. Sleep well.

  9. Rest between events in the shade or out of the heat.

  10. Recognize the signs and symptoms of the three general types of heat illnesses: heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

The signs and symptoms of heat cramps include discomfort in the muscles that often leads to a decrease in performance. These are caused by either too little or too much fluid intake, which leads to a decrease in the body's sodium level.

Heat exhaustion is marked by dehydration, dizziness, gastrointestinal distress, persistent muscle cramps, cool clammy skin, chills, weakness, a change in mental status and hyperventilation.

Heat stroke is the most serious of the three and is considered a medical emergency. Signs and symptoms are similar to exhaustion but also include marked changes in mental status (delirium, hysteria or a loss of consciousness), a rapid heart rate, low blood pressure and a body temperature elevated above 104° F.