heat exhaustion

Life can get hot on a summer day on the water. Don’t let it exhaust you. Photo: Aaron Schmidt

Paddle Healthy | Expert Tips to Ward Off Heat Exhaustion

Pushing through painful heat during an intense SUP workout while you burn up is one thing; fighting heat exhaustion is another. Professional endurance athlete Tom Jones has put the pains of heat exhaustion behind him plenty of times, including the time he ran 121 marathons back-to-back, or standup paddled down the California coastline, or was sparring with training partner Chuck Norris (seriously). Here, Jones shares valuable information on the subject, directly from his personal experiences, so that you don't have to suffer out on your SUP. This summer, don't get beat by the heat; instead, educate yourself by learning how to prevent heat exhaustion, the symptoms, and how treat it if you get it.

Factors for Consideration

"Heat exhaustion develops when you're exposed to high temperatures during exercise," says Jones. There are two types of heat exhaustion: water depletion and salt depletion. If not dealt with properly, heat exhaustion can lead to a more serious condition, heat stroke (also known as sun stroke), which can cause damage to vital organs and potentially result in death.

While temperature is obviously a key factor in bringing on heat exhaustion, many don't realize humidity is also a major component, as it's reported that a relative humidity of 60% can inhibit sweat evaporation and the body's natural cooling system. Also, consider the state of your skin: If sunburned, your body's ability to release heat is impaired. Certain medications and medical conditions can also affect body temperature and other factors that contribute to heat exhaustion.


Avoid exercising in the peak heat of the day and during high temperatures, but if you must play then, make sure to wear light-colored, loose-fitting and lightweight clothing. Before letting the heat hit you, plan on having a surefire way to stay cool or to cool yourself once you feel hot. When Jones began to feel the onset of symptoms during his 1,250-mile expedition down the California coastline in 2007, he was proactive in his fight against the heat:

"I rolled off my board into the water right away, holding the side as I dunked my head underwater," Jones says. "I also poured ice water on my head to stay cool and informed others of how I felt."

However, Jones says being prepared for hotter temperatures than you expect is the key: "Super-hydrate, super-fuel, and get plenty of rest the night before. If I want to prevent heat exhaustion, I'm making sure I have cool water onboard, that I get wet and stay in a cooler environment until I start feeling better. I'm also going to bring a buddy with me so I can tell someone I'm not feeling good."

Acclimating to hotter, more humid climates for a few days prior to physical activity also helps the body adapt to temperature when you do exercise. Find out from your doctor and/or pharmacist if prescribed medications can affect body temperature or make you more susceptible to suffering from heat exhaustion. Bottom line, prepare as much as you can, but always listen to your body and the signs it's giving you.


"Signs of heat exhaustion include dizziness, feeling like you're going to barf, extreme sweating, muscle cramping, headache, weakness, and high heart rate," Jones says. Other symptoms also include pale skin, dark-colored urine (a sign of dehydration), fainting and confusion.
When it comes to deciphering between which type of heat exhaustion you may be suffering from, symptoms for water depletion specifically include headache, excessive thirst, weakness and even loss of consciousness. Symptoms of heat exhaustion from salt depletion in particular include cramping, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting.


"First, get out of the heat and into a cooler temperature as quickly as possible," Jones says. "Hydrate with water, not coffee or other stuff. Try to lower your core temperature by submerging yourself in cool water or jumping in a cool shower; and, if possible, remove what clothing you can to allow heat to escape the body," says Jones. If you can't remove clothing, try to loosen it or get it wet.

If symptoms don't begin to subside after attempts at treatment, get help: "Seek medical attention right away," Jones says. "You don't know if it can lead to some other illness or problem, like a heart attack or heat stroke, especially if your health isn't in good condition."

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