GAPA Health Watch: Stay Cool While Staying Fit

GAPA members are urging patients to consider making adjustments in their fitness routines to avoid an injury that is all too common during this time of the year – heat stress.

Online PR News – 08-June-2012 – June 7, 2012 Atlanta, GA – The Georgia Association of Physician Assistants (GAPA) salutes every Georgian who has committed to “Get Fit with GAPA” this year and encourages everyone who may be thinking about starting a fitness plan to join this statewide initiative. Entering the hot summer months, Association members are also urging patients to consider making some adjustments in their fitness routines to avoid an injury that is all too common during this time of the year – heat stress.

“While we want our patients to remain active over the summer months, we need to caution them that heat-related illnesses are a real possibility for anyone, no matter their level of physical fitness,” stated Ben Taylor, PhD., PA-C. Taylor is GAPA’s public education chair and works in multiple emergency departments in Georgia and South Carolina. “The fatality rate from heat-related illnesses is higher than sudden death from heart attacks or being struck by automobiles.”

Heat stress can result in heat stroke, heat exhaustion or heat cramps. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heat stroke is the most serious of these conditions, occurring when the body becomes unable to cool down. Symptoms can include hot, dry skin (you stop sweating) or profuse sweating, hallucinations, chills, high body temperature, confusion or dizziness, rapid pulse, difficulty breathing, constricted pupils and any or all of the signs or symptoms of heat exhaustion.

“If you suspect that someone is experiencing heat stroke, call 911 and move them to a cool shaded area,” Taylor cautioned. “Soak their clothes with water, fan their body and apply ice (ice bags or ice towels). Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not rendered immediately.”

Heat exhaustion is the body’s response to an excessive loss of water and salt, usually through excessive sweating. Symptoms include heavy sweating, extreme weakness, dizziness and nausea, headache, intense thirst, loss of coordination, impaired judgment, loss of appetite, hyperventilation, tingling in hands or feet, anxiety, cool moist skin, weak and rapid pulse (120-200 beats per minute) and low to normal blood pressure. Those with heat exhaustion should move to a cool, shaded or air-conditioned area, drink plenty of water and take a cool shower or sponge bath.

Heat cramps typically present as muscle pain or spasms in the abdomen, arms or legs, and may require medical attention. Although they can be quite painful they usually don't result in permanent damage. To prevent them, Taylor recommends drinking electrolyte solutions such as Gatorade during the day and try eating more fruits like bananas.

“The best defense against any heat-related illness is prevention,” he summed up. “To protect your health when temperatures are extremely high, remember to keep cool and use common sense.” Taylor also offered the following tips:

• If a fitness routine requires going outdoors (such as running or walking), plan the activity outdoors either early in the morning or in the late evening. While outdoors, rest frequently in a shady area. Resting periodically will give the body’s thermostat a chance to recover.
• Drink more water and nonalcoholic beverages while exercising. Don’t wait until the body is thirsty to drink. Do NOT drink large amounts of sugary sodas or sweet tea and avoid all alcoholic beverages as they actually cause you to lose more body fluid. Also avoid very cold drinks because they can cause stomach cramps.
• Choose lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing. Wear a wide-brimmed hat for shade and don’t forget to apply sunscreen with sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher before going outside.
• Look at options for moving fitness routines indoors. See if there is an air-conditioned gym at a nearby community center or school. Perhaps an office building or apartment complex might have facilities available for use.
• Develop a summer-friendly fitness routine. Consider a water workout in a swimming pool or at a lake. Power walk at the mall. Go bowling, rock climbing or roller-skating at an indoor, air-conditioned facility.
• Be aware that any sudden change in temperature will be stressful to the body. Slowly build a tolerance to the heat by limiting your physical activity. Allow several days to become acclimated before attempting any vigorous exercise, and work up to it gradually.

“If your heart is pounding in your ears, if you’re gasping for breath, stop what you’re doing, get in the shade and check your pulse,” said Taylor. “This is a good way to determine whether your heart rate is within its target zone during exercise.”

The heart rate is the number of times the heart beats in one minute. A person’s pulse is lower when they are at rest and increases when they exercise. The pulse can be checked at the neck, the wrist or the chest.

“The wrist may be the easiest place to find your pulse,” advised Taylor. “You can feel the radial pulse on the artery of the wrist in line with the thumb. Place the tips of the index and middle fingers over the artery and press lightly.”

According to CDC guidelines, take a full 60-second count of the heartbeats (or take for 30 seconds and multiply by two). Start the count on a beat, which is counted as "zero." Then, deduct your age from the total count. For a 50-year-old person, the estimated maximum heart rate would be calculated as 220 minus 50, or 170 beats per minute (bpm). A 35-year old person’s maximum heart rate would be 220 minus 35, or 185 beats per minute.

“Typically, a 50-year-old person should have a bpm within a target range of 85 and 119 for moderate-intensity activity,” said Taylor. “It might go higher as the activity level increases, but it should never be allowed to go over 170 bpm.”

GAPA is committed to making sure all Georgians have the resources they need to live a healthier lifestyle this summer and all year long. The Association is focusing on reducing and reversing Georgia’s alarming increase in obesity rates through the “Get Fit with GAPA” initiative, which promotes better fitness and eating habits. GAPA is also working with the Georgia State Park system to promote healthy hikes by distributing free State Park passes to patients through the Rx for Fitness program. Many State Parks have shaded nature trails along cool streams or waterfalls. Several also have swimming pools or lakes and offer summer water sports such as swimming, canoeing, kayaking and sailing.

The mission of the Georgia Association of Physician Assistants is to promote high quality, cost-effective, accessible healthcare as part of a physician-directed PA/physician team in Georgia. To learn more about how PAs make healthcare more affordable and accessible in Georgia, please visit and click on “Patients.” GAPA also offers “Find a PA,” a free searchable database for healthcare consumers with listings of Physician Assistant providers throughout the State. Learn more about "Get Fit with GAPA" and the “Rx for Fitness” program at

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