The “dog days of Summer” are not a blank-check excuse to discontinue your new fitness walking program. As we head into the heart of Summer, here are a few suggestions that can keep you both inspired and safe as you continue to walk for exercise.
A popular way to beat the heat is to move your walking program indoors. You can switch to a treadmill at home or at the gym, or walk in an air-conditioned mall. Mall walking is a great alternative, particularly if you struggle with seasonal allergies. (And for some of us, it’s also a good idea to leave your wallet in your car to avoid the temptation to shop!)
There is no dishonor in moving a fitness program indoors, particularly when the Summer heat can bring sudden storms that, as we have seen already this Spring in St. Louis, can be dangerous. Yet for those of us who spend much of the day sitting in air conditioning, being outdoors beacons to us.
If communing with nature is your preferred path, here is what you need to keep in mind before heading outdoors. Avoid the big three: chafing, blistering and burning.
Chafing happens when heat and sweat mix, usually under your arms, chest, crotch and thighs. Add friction and you have trouble. There are two things to consider. First, think about investing in sweat-wicking clothing. Cotton is good, but today there are new microfibers, such as Cool-Max, which actually draw dampness away from the skin and allow it to evaporate before trouble can start. There is a whole wardrobe of shirts, tops, bras, socks and shorts to choose from. Also, there are the anti-chafing products carried at most drug stores that can be used in these sensitive areas of the body to prevent chafing before you walk.
Blisters on your feet are nearly always preventable, and oddly enough, there are two opposing directions you can go. One is to borrow a trick from marathoners, who lubricate their feet by slathering them with petroleum jelly or an AD ointment (sold in the baby diaper section). The other option is to keep your feet very dry with talcum powder or corn starch (like what you cook with) sprinkled in your shoes, between your thighs, arms, etc. Also, if you tend to blister in a certain place on your feet, a simple adhesive bandage or moleskin can protect the spot.
While I haven’t personally tried them, there are new antiperspirants designed specifically for feet. A recent military study claimed these reduced the incidence of blisters. If you have seriously sweaty feet, this might be worth a try.
Finally, burning, as in sun-burning, is a fairly easy thing to avoid. Always wear a hat, even when it is overcast out. And do I really have to tell you to use SPF 30 on any skin the sun touches? Many people like a bandana or one of the new neck coolers around their necks to protect and lower body temperature. Light-colored clothes are also advisable in the Summer. Why attract more heat with a black shirt???
Another alternative to mall walking is to do your fitness walking very early in the morning or evening to avoid the hottest part of the day. However, do think about safety, both from traffic and predators. Again, light-colored clothes, not black, are important so that you are seen by motorists. If you’re a regular late-night runner or walker, invest in a reflective safety vest – like traffic officers and road crews wear. It’s also important to carry a flashlight and obey traffic rules.
Even though you are an adult, “stranger danger” is an appropriate topic for walkers, particularly if you’re exercising before dawn or after sunset. There are little things that you can do that significantly discourage the bad guys. Obviously, carrying a purse implies there are valuables to be had, so leave that at home. Bring identification, keys, cell phone and as little else as you can, and carry these things in pockets or a fanny pack.
Walking with someone else or with a dog, even a little one, is a good deterrent, as is staying on a course where there are people and traffic. A walking or hiking stick is likely to discourage trouble makers, as are brightly colored personal body alarms or a whistle worn around your neck.
Finally, maybe the single most important thing to do when walking in the heat is to hydrate your body. If you drink 16-20 ounces of water 90 minutes before leaving the house, your body will eliminate most of the water before you go, and leave your body well-hydrated. Then, for every 30 minutes you’re out walking, stop and drink something non-alcoholic. Water is always the best hydrator.
Many walkers like to carry a water bottle with them. Personally, I like my hands free and rely on public water fountains. My friend Paul, however, takes a plastic bottle, fills it to the halfway mark with water, then freezes the bottle. After 30 minutes in the heat, enough of the ice has thawed for him to get several gulps of good, cold water.
So, just to review, you’ve got your hat and sunscreen on, you’re wearing reflective, light-colored clothing that can wick off moisture, you have used creams and/or powders on chafing or blister-prone areas, you’ve chosen a well-lit, populated course to walk, and you’ve got your cell phone, water bottle and flashlight with you.
Let’s have a great Summer walking!