Two summers ago, I took a long powerwalk in 95-degree temperatures and high humidity. I arrived home with a backache, a stomachache, and intense fatigue. I felt so dizzy that I had to lie down, and when I took my sugars, which I thought might be low, I noticed they had spiked, despite my recent exercise.
I figured I could sleep it off, but when my husband saw my pale face and intense discomfort he took me – under protest – to the nearest hospital emergency room. There I discovered I had heat exhaustion and severe dehydration. I spent the next several hours linked to an IV that flooded my body with missing fluids.
All of which is to say, scorching temperatures, high humidity, and diabetes aren’t a great mix.
Diabetes and overexposure to heat and humidity can lead to heat exhaustion, which basically occurs when you’re exposed to high temperatures and don’t get enough to drink. Heat exhaustion can cause confusion, dizziness, fainting, muscle cramps, fatigue and nausea and vomiting, and dark colored urine, among other symptoms.
A very hot summer day can deliver a one-two punch for those of us with diabetes.
For one, people with diabetes may have nerve or blood vessel damage, which can affect sweat glands so our bodies can’t cool effectively. And dehydration can cause blood sugars to rise, making us urinate more frequently and increasing the chances of dehydration.
How can you avoid this?
The main trick is to drink enough water to stay hydrated. Avoid dehydrating drinks like coffee or energy drinks and alcohol. Eating fruits and vegetables that are high in water content – blueberries, watermelon, lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers to name a few – can also help.
Although my experience has taught me to move most of my summer workouts indoors, if I do go outside to exercise, I also make sure to drink before I get thirsty. By the time you begin to crave water, it may be too late.
Other tips include staying out of the direct sun, wearing loose light clothing to encourage sweat to evaporate, adding a hat to your wardrobe, and checking your blood sugars more frequently during the summer months.
After my scare, I also try to exercise outdoors with a friend, just in case my body decides to go haywire again.
It’s also worth noting that if you have additional complications from your diabetes, like cardiovascular or kidney disease, it might be wise to check with your doctor before you head out to do any type of strenuous exercise in the sun.
If you’re not willing to give up your outdoor biking or jogging, my other suggestion is to hit the trail very early, before the air cooks up. This summer, that means heading out before 8 a.m. with my walking partner, armed with a full water bottle. By being alert and staying hydrated, you can still enjoy the season. Learn from my mistakes!