Golfing in the heat: How to keep your cool

As temperatures and humidity rise it's important to know the signs and symptoms of heat illnesses and how to protect yourself.

By: Thayne Munce, PhD .

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In typical Midwestern fashion, winter skipped right to summer, which means it’s time to pack away the shovels and dust off the golf clubs. And though many golfers are anxious to hit the greens, as temperatures and humidity rise it’s important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of heat illness and how to protect yourself during those hot days on the course.

What to look for

Heat illness is progressive, coming with multiple warning signs that are important to pay attention to. Being able to recognize and treat symptoms early minimizes the chance of heat-related injury.

Heat exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is fairly common on hot, humid days and includes symptoms such as thirst, fatigue, weakness, headaches and feeling sick. Though it is typically reversible by getting out of the heat, if not treated properly, heat exhaustion can escalate to a more serious heat illness such as heat stroke.

Heat stroke

Heat stroke is characterized by a body temperature of 104 degrees or higher and is often accompanied by central nervous system dysfunction. Signs and symptoms of heat stroke may include mental confusion, erratic behavior, fainting or losing consciousness. Heat stroke can progress to organ system failure and could be fatal.

Heat cramps

Heat cramps occur when the body loses high volumes of sweat and electrolytes due to prolonged physical activity in a hot environment.

If you experience these symptoms, take corrective action immediately:

  • Stop your physical activity and remove yourself from the heat.
  • Drink fluids.
  • Elevate your legs to increase blood circulation.

Beat the heat

Golfers who spend several hours out on the course on a hot day put themselves at higher risk for elevated body temperature, dehydration and heat illness, which can essentially impair not only their performance, but also overall health. Athletes can take action to reduce these risks by following these tips:

  • Get early tee times. Golf earlier in the day before the temperature rises.
  • Don’t over-exert yourself. Minimize the duration and intensity of your movements as much as possible.
  • Seek shade whenever possible. Stand under a tree and get out of the sun during your partner’s shot.
  • Wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing. Sweat is more likely to get soaked up in tighter clothing before it can be carried away from your body, causing you to sweat more and increasing your risk of dehydration and heat illness.
  • Stay hydrated. Having a beer or two during your golf game isn’t the worst thing in the world, but water or sports drinks should be the primary fluids golfers turn to when it’s hot and humid. Sports drinks provide electrolytes your body is losing and carbohydrates to give you energy.
  • Grab a cart. Being able to drive a cart instead of walking the course will minimize heat production and prevent heat illness from occurring.

The science of sweat

Acclimatization

Sweating is the body’s natural mechanism for cooling itself, which it does through the process of evaporation. When it’s hot and humid outside, it makes the evaporative process slower and more difficult. In a person’s initial exposure to heat, they sweat primarily from their head and trunk. But with continued exposure to the heat, sweat glands on the limbs become more activated, which helps the body cool itself.

For outdoor athletes, like golfers, this process of getting used to the hot, natural environment is called heat acclimatization. As their bodies adapt, this process allows athletes to have a lower heart rate, lower exertion with exercise, lower body temperature and more dilute sweat so they can perform more efficiently. Though some aspects of this will occur within the first few days of exposure, full heat acclimatization takes about 10 to 14 days.

Sweat Tests

Sweat rates are highly variable from person to person. You may not realize you have a high sweat rate until you run into problems, so it’s helpful to get your individual sweat rate dialed in. Performing a sweat test can determine a person’s sweat rate based on the volume of sweat they produce and the concentration of electrolytes (e.g., sodium, potassium, etc) in their sweat. Doing so can forecast their needs on the golf course and determine how much fluid they’ll need to replace. Tests can be performed in the environmental chamber or while a golfer is actually playing.

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