Archive for September 21st, 2009

Keep It Cool

Monday, September 21st, 2009

Sunday was a scorcher. While it wasn’t a Central Valley or Death Valley sort of hot but it was a kind of hot that made sun warmed sports drinks taste great.  So that got me thinking about two different subjects, nutrition and safety.

In the interest of full disclosure I am not a medical professional. I do want to say, however, what medical training I’ve had has been a series of first aid classes that had been offered through the Red Cross and the Sierra Club.

The American Red Cross website states the following,  “According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 400 Americans die each year due to summer’s sweltering heat. Furthermore, the National Weather Service asserts that excessive heat was the number one weather-related killer, causing more fatalities per year than floods, lightning, tornadoes, hurricanes, winter storms and extreme cold from 1994 to 2003″.

Some of the Red Cross’ recommendations are easy enough to understand even if they may seem, at first glance, a bit nanny policing:

  • Dress for the heat. Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing. Light colors will reflect away some of the sun’s energy. It is also a good idea to wear hats or to use an umbrella.
  • Drink water. Carry water or juice with you and drink continuously even if you do not feel thirsty. Avoid alcohol and caffeine, which dehydrate the body. Avoid using salt tablets unless directed to do so by a physician.
  • Eat small meals and eat more often. Avoid high-protein foods, which increase metabolic heat.
  • Slow down. Avoid strenuous activity. If you must do strenuous activity, do it during the coolest part of the day, which is usually in the morning between 4 and 7 a.m.

Most of these recommendations seem pretty reasonable but isn’t opening an umbrella while riding single track supposed to be bad luck?

All kidding aside the Red Cross urges people to be aware of the symptoms that can lead to a heat related emergency:

  • Heat cramps: Heat cramps are muscular pains and spasms due to heavy exertion. Although heat cramps are the least severe, they are an early signal that the body is having trouble with the heat.
  • Heat exhaustion: Heat exhaustion typically occurs when people exercise heavily or work in a hot, humid place where body fluids are lost through heavy sweating. Blood flow to the skin increases, causing blood flow to decrease to the vital organs. This results in a form of mild shock. If not treated, the victim may suffer heat stroke. Signals of heat exhaustion include cool, moist, pale flushed or red skin; heavy sweating; headache; nausea or vomiting; dizziness; and exhaustion. Body temperature will be near normal.

•      Heat stroke: Also known as sunstroke, heat stroke is life threatening. The victim’s temperature control system, which produces sweating to cool the body, stops working. The body temperature can rise so high that brain damage and death may result if the body is not cooled quickly. Signals include hot, red and dry skin; changes in consciousness; rapid, weak pulse; and rapid, shallow breathing. Body temperature can be very high-sometimes as high as 105 degrees.

While summer is indeed winding down fall and winter offer their own challenges to those of us who ride all year long. The Red Cross recommends the following in order to avoid cold related emergencies:

  • Dress appropriately before going outdoors. The air temperature does not have to be below freezing for someone to experience cold emergencies such as hypothermia and frostbite. Wind speed can create dangerously cold conditions even when the temperature is not that low.
  • If possible, avoid being outside in the coldest part of the day, or for extended periods of time in extreme cold weather.
  • Dress in layers so you can adjust to changing conditions. Avoid overdressing or overexertion that can lead to heat illness.
  • Most of your body heat is lost through your head so wear a hat, preferably one that covers your ears.
  • Mittens provide more warmth to your hands than gloves.
  • Wear waterproof, insulated boots to help avoid hypothermia or frostbite by keeping your feet warm and dry and to maintain your footing in ice and snow.
  • Take frequent breaks and stay hydrated.

•Get out of wet clothes immediately and warm the core body temperature with a blanket or warm fluids like hot cider or soup. Avoid drinking caffeine or alcohol if you expect you or someone you are trying to help has hypothermia or frostbite.

  • Recognize the symptoms of hypothermia that can be a serious medical condition: confusion, dizziness, exhaustion and severe shivering. Seek medical attention immediately if you have these symptoms.
  • Recognize frostbite warning signs: gray, white or yellow skin discoloration, numbness, waxy feeling skin. Seek medical attention immediately if you have these symptoms.

Mountain biking is an inherently risky past time.  Personally, I’ve had my share of injuries throughout the years ranging from minor cuts and bruises to head injuries and helicopter flights to the emergency room.  Even then I think I’ve gotten off pretty light.

Play it safe, stay cool and keep the rubber side down.

Adam H