The summer in Germany is extremely hot again this year, the high temperatures make us sweat, especially if we still do sports on hot days. But cycling, playing football and tennis, jogging or swimming can also be dangerous in the heat.
Because in summer, not only are the temperatures high, the sun’s rays are also stronger and the ozone content in the air, which is often higher when it’s hot, can cause problems for athletes.
More heat and more ozone: How dangerous is it for us in everyday life?
“The peak values for ozone have been decreasing for several years, while the 8-hour limit values are exceeded more frequently,” says Andreas Nieß, medical director of the department of sports medicine at the University Hospital in Tübingen.
Several factors affect health
With an increased respiratory volume, as with physical exertion, ozone can penetrate deep into the lung tissue, where it damages the tissue and causes inflammation.
But in principle you cannot see ozone alone when you play sports outdoors, explains Nieß. “It also depends on the sum of the external health-hazardous factors,” he says.
But what actually happens in the body when I exercise?
When we move, our muscles produce heat and the body warms up. “So that people don’t overheat, the body releases this heat to the outside. Ultimately, the heat is released through the skin as the sweat evaporates,” explains Nieß.
The problem: The higher the ambient temperature, the harder it is for the body to conduct heat through the skin. If there is still high humidity, it becomes even more difficult because heat dissipation through sweat no longer works properly.
The result: The body is overwhelmed by the heat and the body temperature rises constantly.
When high temperatures become a danger
The first thing you notice is some discomfort, performance decreases. “But if you continue with the strain, you move towards heat exhaustion. Symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, poor circulation and collapse can follow. In extreme cases, heat stroke can even be fatal,” says the sports doctor.
Also dangerous for children and young people
Parents, coaches and supervisors should pay particular attention when children and young people play sports. Although children are fundamentally not more susceptible to the heat, “they have a different physiology. They sweat less before puberty. Therefore, they are not yet able to release heat through the skin to the outside as well,’ explains Andreas Nieß. However, children also produce less muscle heat because the muscle mass in a child is lower.
The problem we have these days is that kids’ fitness levels have dropped.
Nevertheless: under these conditions, children should only perform normal loads. “We have the problem today that the children’s fitness has decreased. Therefore, children in clubs or holiday camps should not play sports in the middle of the day in the blazing sun,” says the sports doctor.
This is how clubs in the region act
The clubs in the region are aware of this, although training in the children and youth area continues to a large extent. Training for the children at the TG Biberach athletics department begins at the usual times, although these are always in the evening.
Good response to the evening sports festival
“In the heat, we adapt the training, we train in the shade as much as possible and make sure to drink enough. The intensity is also adapted to the conditions,” says Sigrid Barlak from TG Biberach. You are more likely to do technique training, short runs or strength training. “Not endurance or sprint endurance.” In addition, the children’s group up to 11 years of age has no training during the holidays anyway.
Customized training sessions
The children’s and youth teams in the football club FV Ravensburg also have no training in the first two weeks of August. In the past few weeks, more drinking breaks have been introduced and the intensity reduced, which is confirmed by Fabian Hummel from FV Ravensburg. “The focus is more on technical elements,” he says.
At the German alpine club, there are “no special precautions or rules from a higher level on how to handle high temperatures. The different training conditions are simply too individual for that,” says Markus Grübl from the DAV’s federal office. The coaches for the individual sections would on site deciding whether it was too hot for climbing training or a hike.
Cyclists in particular must be able to withstand high temperatures, which also cause the asphalt to heat up considerably. RSV Seerose Friedrichshafen is currently continuing its training in the children’s and youth area as normal. However, the managers could decide in advance whether the unit should take place.
If it is too hot, the trainers would choose a shaded route with several drinking water fountains for the training, slow down the pace, especially for younger participants, and pay attention to increased electrolyte intake, explains Stefan Huber, president of the association.
How to protect yourself from extreme heat
According to youth leader Amatus Fischer and his colleagues, the rowers in RV Bad Waldsee continue to train normally even in the heat. Most rowers cool off by jumping in the water before training, which usually takes place in the evening or early morning.
When the temperatures are high, it is ensured that the stay on the lake is not as long as in cooler months. Should it ever get too hot, the rowers do endurance and technique training in the cooler weight room.
How to protect yourself from the heat
Sports physician Andreas Nieß recommends observing the “classics” so that there are no health-threatening symptoms caused by the heat. “Sun protection, drink enough, don’t overexert yourself in sports, reduce stress. And if you want to do sports outside, it’s currently best to do it in the early morning hours or later in the evening,” he explains.
But avoiding all influences and just staying at home and no longer playing sports is not effective either.
In the years 2018 to 2020, there was excess mortality as a result of heat exposure in the general population.
It also plays a decisive role in how trained the body is in general. An untrained person has a significantly higher risk of heat stroke in the high temperatures than a professional athlete. “So there are several factors that influence: first, the individual fitness and the degree of adaptation of the athlete, second, the external conditions and third, the type and severity of the sporting stress,” says Nieß.
Increase in heat deaths is expected
In light of climate change and global warming, it must be expected that the heat will increasingly lead to harmful effects during sports activities.
Graphic: This is how the number of warm days in your district has increased over the past 60 years
“In the years 2018 to 2020, there was excess mortality due to the effects of heat in the general population and regardless of those who practiced sports,” says Nieß. This will probably continue to increase if it is not possible to counteract climate change with appropriate measures.
The ozone content in the air also affects our athletic performance. You can read HERE how the ozone values have developed in recent years.