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Cramping Your Style

How to avoid heat cramps while exercising

SUNDAY, Aug. 1, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Excessive heat can cause numerous medical problems. One of the most common, but least severe, is heat cramps.

Heat cramps generally occur when exercising in a hot environment because sweating depletes the body's salt and fluid reserves, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

When too much salt is lost, the body's electrolyte balance is altered, and the muscles no longer have the fuel they need to perform properly. This imbalance causes cramps. Heat cramps occur most often in the abdomen, arms or legs, according to the CDC.

If you experience heat cramps, stop exercising right away. The CDC recommends sitting quietly in a cool place and drinking juice or a sports drink. Loosen tight clothing and apply moist towels to the cramping muscles or try to gently stretch them.

Wait at least a few hours before trying to exercise again. Heat cramps are a signal that your body is overheated and if you continue to exercise, you may suffer heat exhaustion or heat stroke, which can be life-threatening.

If the cramps don't start to feel better in an hour, if you have heart disease or if you're on a low-sodium diet, you should seek medical attention.

To avoid heat cramps and other heat illnesses, take plenty of breaks when you exercise and drink lots of fluids.

More information

For more tips on avoiding heat illnesses, go to the American Academy of Family Physicians.

SOURCES: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; American Academy of Family Physicians
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