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If there's something every active person should be toting all day this season, it's a bottle of water. Along with healthy food, it's fuel that enables us to play for hours despite the summer heat.
We can prevent many heat-related illnesses related to physical activity, according to a recent consensus statement from the American College of Sports Medicine.
The most common heat-related condition is dehydration.
Many of us will be mildly dehydrated during activity because it's often difficult to replenish fluids as fast as we lose them, according to the report. And that can affect our performance and our body's ability to cool itself. Every person has different fluid needs - some need more than others.
One way to find out if you're drinking enough fluids is to check the color of your urine. If it's close to clear, chances are you're getting enough.
For most people who participate in an activity for an hour, water usually is fine. Those who keep going for more than an hour will need a sports drink with electrolytes - sodium and potassium.
There are many brands of sports drinks that have added ingredients intended to boost your energy. In many cases, the effects of these combined ingredients on the body have not been studied carefully. The benefits of drinks with just electrolytes, on the other hand, are well documented, so it's best to stick to these.
Drink water throughout the day, not just before activity. And drink during activity so that you never have to feel thirsty. By the time you're thirsty, you are probably dehydrated already. Drink before, during and after activity. Sometimes, we put off breaks because we want to push our fitness levels higher. But to keep pushing without having had enough water or having eaten properly is setting yourself up for trouble.
It's like continuing to drive when you don't have enough oil or coolant in your car's engine. Sooner or later, it's going to blow.
Watch for other signs of dehydration aside from thirst: dry mouth, irritability, general discomfort, apathy, headache, weakness, dizziness, cramps, chills, vomiting, heat in the head or neck, excessive fatigue and decreased performance.
Pay special attention to vomiting and nausea because these may be a sign of heat stroke.
Is it possible to have too much fluid? Sometimes, endurance athletes may develop hyponatremia, in which too much fluid, especially water, dilutes the sodium in the bloodstream, causing cerebral or pulmonary edema - fluid in the brain or lungs. This is a dangerous condition that requires immediate medical attention.
Heat cramps are one of the less-understood heat-related illnesses. They tend to occur later in activity, when we're fatigued and dehydrated. Exercise scientists suspect that loss of sodium (through sweating) is a factor.
For those who have had a history of heat cramps, researchers suggest prevention by adding 1 gram of sodium to a 20 oz. to 32 oz. sports drink and taking this early in the activity. Yes, it will make your drink saltier than usual, but it will be tolerable.
(Lisa Liddane is a health and fitness writer for The Orange County Register and an American Council on Exercise-certified group fitness instructor. Write to her at the Register, P.O. Box 11626, Santa Ana, Calif. 92711 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
(c) 2003, The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.). Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.