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Playing Beach Volleyball in the Heat

Playing beach volleyball in hot weather, be it humid or dry, can be dangerous…even fatal. Every year, hundreds of people succumb to heat exhaustion and dehydration while exercising outdoors and land inside emergency rooms.

Victims of heat-related illness all typically suffer from the same generalized symptoms: severe headaches or nausea, general confusion or loss of concentration, muscle cramps or spasms, lack of sweating, and feeling faint. Recognizing and detecting these symptoms can be the difference of life and death.

This guide goes over the causes of heat illness and how you can prevent one from happening to you.

Causes of Heat-Related Illness

Overheating and dehydration occur more often in hot and humid weather because all the normal processes that occur in the body while exercising are forced into a kind of overdrive. The heart rate rises, the muscles lose oxygen more quickly, and your internal temperature bumps up more quickly than the body can handle.

Heat Exhaustion

Overheating is the result of a battle within your body to both cool the blood and refuel the muscles during exercise. When your body heats up internally, it begins to sweat. But at the same time, blood is also needed to supply the muscles with oxygen—the muscles can't cool down or function properly without it.

In the end, the muscles' need for O2 usually wins. And the subsequent limited amount of blood-flow to the skin causes the sweat to evaporate less efficiently. That is what causes the body to overheat, which leads to heat exhaustion.

Dehydration

Dehydration is the process of the body losing fluid, usually through sweating. When the body sweats, it loses both water and electrolytes (vital minerals like sodium potassium, zinc, and B-vitamins) which is why it is important to take in water and a sport drink that has additional nutrients.

Risk Factors

While everyone is theoretically susceptible to the heat, there are some risk factors that make some people more likely than others to get heat-related illnesses. Obviously, if your immune system is compromised, then you are more likely to get sick, period. That is why you should do a self-assessment of your general health before you decide to play beach volleyball in hot weather.

It may be prudent for you to postpone hiking in the heat if you are suffering from one or more of the following five conditions:

  1. Viral or bacterial infection
  2. Obesity
  3. Lack of heat training
  4. Occurrence of heat disease in the past
  5. Two or more nights of extreme sleep deprivation

Also, if you are already under medical supervision for certain medical conditions—including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, extreme stress, asthma, diabetes, epilepsy, cardiovascular disease, or smoking—then you may want to carefully monitor your outdoor exposure to heat.

Strategies for Staying Cool

So while you can’t avoid hot weather, there are things you can do to avoid dehydration and overheating.

Below are ten tips to help you keep cool twhen the temperature is high:

1. Acclimate

The body can acclimate to hot and humid weather, so as summer begins, start slow. Give yourself one to two weeks of easy practice to adjust. The body is an incredibly efficient machine!

2. Be an Early (or Late) Bird

The coolest part of the day is the early morning, but it is also usually the most humid. Late evening tends to be slightly warmer, but less humid. Just pick and choose what works best for your schedule, but try to avoid peak times between noon and 3:00 p.m.

3. Improvise

Find a sand court that has either shade, breeze or a body of water or all of the above. Be flexible and give yourself permission to take frequent breaks or stop the game altogether.

4. Be Informed

Know your own personal limits, but also take time to familiarize yourself with the heat index, which factors in the air temperature relation to the relative humidity.

5. Follow Your Intuition

If you know it’s risky to be outside and you get a bad feeling about the conditions, listen to those instincts—even if you are feeling perfectly healthy and in the middle of your game. As Christina Aguilera says in “Genie in a Bottle”: Sometimes our bodies say let’s go, but our heart says no. In this case, follow your heart and head back.

6. Remember the Rays

Don't forget to protect yourself from the actual UV rays as well. Make sure to wear sunglasses and sunscreen, especially if you are hiking in the middle of the day, since both sun poisoning and sun burn actually increase the risk of overheating by increasing the temperature on the surface of the skin.

7. Dress Appropriately

If possible, wear light-colored, loose-fitted, microfiber clothing. Light colors reflect the sun and loose clothing will help with ventilation. Try to avoid cotton, which will just become heavy and hot once you start sweating.

You may also want to wear a visor or a hat with a wide brim to protect your face or scalp from the sun. Since you also lose your heat faster from the top of your head if it’s uncovered, choose a mesh or light-weight fabric hat to promote the circulation of air.

8. Douse Yourself

A quick douse of water is an easy way to temporarily lower body temperature, so take full advantage of any hose or water fountain nearby. If you have a towel, soak it in the cold water and wrap it around your head to maintain a lower temperature for a longer period of time.

9. Drink Up

Drink a lot of both water and your favorite sport drinks – between six and 12 fluid ounces every hour--during hot weather.

Hot Tip: At Home Solution
Don’t want to waste money on expensive sports drinks? You can make a quick, homemade sports drink by mixing a packet of salt with a pack of sugar into a liter bottle and save yourself a buck or two.

10. Reach for the Salt

Salt is a vital component of proper muscle and cardiovascular functioning in athletes, so if you are feeling light-headed after a game, grab something salty.

Some Like it Hot

Knowing what you are getting yourself into is half the battle! If you follow the ten steps provided here, then you should be able to make it through a volleyball game in the heat as comfortably and as safely as you can.

Heat illnesses such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke are potentially life-threatening, so pick up some prevention tips by reading this beach volleyball guide.
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