An older woman making heart hands on a bright, sunny day while outside being active.

Summer brings sunshine and opportunities for outdoor fun, but it also poses unique challenges to cardiovascular health, especially during periods of extreme heat. Heat-related illnesses, such as heatstroke, can have severe consequences for heart health, stressing the cardiovascular system more than usual.

At UAB Medical West, we are committed to helping you maintain your heart health year-round, with a focus on navigating the summer heat safely. This guide offers essential, actionable tips for protecting your heart when temperatures rise, from staying hydrated to quickly recognizing the signs of heat-related complications. Use these strategies to enjoy your summer safely while keeping your heart in top condition.

The Risks of Heat on Heart Health

The summer heat can significantly strain the cardiovascular system, particularly for those with pre-existing heart conditions. High temperatures cause the body to work harder to maintain a normal temperature, increasing heart rate and blood flow to the skin as the body tries to cool itself through sweating.

For individuals with cardiovascular disease, the heart may already be compromised, making it less able to cope with these added demands. Also, certain heart medications, like beta-blockers, diuretics, and angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, can amplify the body's response to heat, affecting its ability to cool down.

Recognizing & Responding to Heatstroke

Heatstroke is a severe heat-related illness that occurs when the body's temperature regulation fails due to prolonged exposure to high temperatures. This condition can be life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention, especially since it can significantly impact heart health.

Signs of Heatstroke

  • High Body Temperature: A core body temperature of 104 degrees F or higher is the main sign of heatstroke.
  • Altered Mental State or Behavior: Confusion, agitation, slurred speech, irritability, delirium, seizures, and coma can all be symptoms of heatstroke.
  • Alteration in Sweating: Heatstroke from hot weather will make your skin feel hot and dry. However, the skin may feel moist in heat stroke caused by strenuous exercise.
  • Nausea and Vomiting: You may feel sick to your stomach or vomit.
  • Flushed Skin: Your skin may turn red as your body temperature increases.
  • Rapid Breathing: Your breathing may become rapid and shallow.
  • Racing Heart Rate: Your pulse may significantly increase because heat stress places a tremendous burden on your heart to help cool your body.

Responding to Heatstroke

Heatstroke is a medical emergency, and it is critical to get medical assistance for the individual as soon as possible. While waiting for emergency services, move the person to a shaded or air-conditioned environment. Apply cool cloths or ice packs to the person’s head, neck, armpits, and groin. Alternatively, if possible, immerse the person in a shower or bath of cool water.

Staying Hydrated: A Major Key to Heart Health

Dehydration causes the blood to thicken and reduces its volume, forcing the heart to work harder to pump blood through the body. As the heart works harder, heart rate and blood pressure increase, placing additional strain on the cardiovascular system.

Don’t wait until you feel thirsty to drink water. Thirst is a sign that your body is already becoming dehydrated. Aim for at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily, and increase this amount if you are active or spend considerable time outdoors.

Incorporate fruits and vegetables with high water content into your diet, such as cucumbers, watermelon, oranges, and strawberries, which can help boost hydration. Limit intake of beverages that can dehydrate the body, such as those containing caffeine or alcohol.

For those with existing heart conditions or who are taking heart medications that affect fluid balance, it is particularly important to discuss hydration strategies with your healthcare provider to tailor a plan that suits your specific health needs.

Safe Exercise Practices in the Heat

Exercising in hot weather puts additional stress on your heart and body. Here are some guidelines to help you exercise safely during hot days, minimizing the risk to your cardiovascular health.

Safe Summer Workout Tips

  • Time Your Workouts Wisely: Avoid exercising outdoors during the peak heat hours, typically from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Early morning or late evening are cooler and safer times for physical activity.
  • Stay Hydrated: Drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after your workout to replace what you lose through sweating. Don’t wait until you feel thirsty to hydrate.
  • Dress Appropriately: Wear lightweight, loose-fitting, and light-colored clothing to help keep cool and allow your body to sweat efficiently. A wide-brimmed hat can also help shield your face from direct sunlight.
  • Acclimate to the Heat: If you are not used to exercising in hot weather, start slowly and gradually increase the intensity and duration of your workouts as your body adapts.
  • Listen to Your Body: Pay attention to signs of heat exhaustion, which include heavy sweating, weakness, cold, pale, and clammy skin, fainting, and vomiting. Stop exercising immediately if you feel dizzy, faint, or nauseous.
  • Use Heart Rate Monitors: If you have cardiovascular concerns, using a heart rate monitor during exercise can help you keep track of your exertion level and ensure you’re not overworking your heart.

Implementing these strategies will help you maintain an active lifestyle without putting undue stress on your body in the heat.

Lifestyle Choices to Boost Cardiovascular Health in Summer

Summertime can pose unique challenges to cardiovascular health, but with the right precautions and practices, you can protect your heart and enjoy the warmer months safely. By understanding the risks, staying hydrated, recognizing and responding to heatstroke, exercising wisely, and making informed lifestyle choices, you can significantly reduce the impact of heat on your heart. These measures not only help prevent heat-related health issues but also promote a healthier, more active lifestyle during hot days.

Partner with UAB Medical West for Your Heart Health

At UAB Medical West, we are dedicated to helping you maintain optimal heart health throughout the year, including the challenging summer months. Our team of cardiovascular experts is here to provide personalized advice, tailored treatments, and ongoing support to ensure your heart stays healthy no matter the season. Contact us online or call us at 205-481-7000 today to learn more about our cardiovascular services and how we can help you beat the heat with heart-smart strategies.