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Summer's not over just yet: health tips for athletes

BY KEN GARCIA, American Red Cross Modified: August 21, 2012 at 12:47 pm •  Published: August 21, 2012

Amid one of the hottest summers on record in many states, practice for fall sports has already begun. It is important to remember that extreme heat is especially dangerous for athletes.

To help ensure the well-being of athletes, the American Red Cross has tips to keep players safe during hot weather activity including hydration and acclimatization.

“Keeping athletes safe during extreme temperatures is as important as getting them ready for the upcoming season,” said Dr. David Markenson, chair of the American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council.

“One of the most important thing athletes can do is stay hydrated. Drink plenty of fluids like water or sports drinks with electrolytes before, during and after practice – even if you are not thirsty. Avoid drinks with caffeine or alcohol,” Markenson added.

During the hot weather, team practices should be scheduled for early in the day and later in the evening to avoid exposing players to the hottest times of the day. Other steps teams, schools and parents should take to protect their athletes include:

• Allow athletes to get acclimated to the heat by reducing the intensity of practice until they are more accustomed to it.

• Make frequent, longer breaks a regular part of practice. About every 20 minutes stop for fluids and try to keep the athletes in the shade if possible.

• Reduce the amount of heavy equipment—like football pads—athletes wear in extremely hot, humid weather.

• Dress athletes, when appropriate, in net-type jerseys or light-weight, light-colored, cotton T-shirts and shorts.

• Know the signs of heat-related emergencies and monitor athletes closely. “Knowing the signs of heat-related emergencies and how to help someone who is suffering from the heat is vital,” Markenson said. “Coaches and parents need to be vigilant in watching for signs of heat-related emergencies. Athletes should inform their coaches, teachers or parents if they are not feeling well.”

Heat illness is when the body temperature rises because of exertion. If a person's body temperature hits 103 degrees, that means the person is suffering from heat exhaustion. If a person’s body temperature hits 104 degrees or higher, that means the person is suffering from heat stroke.

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