Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 17 March 2018

Burning calories in extreme temperatures – a look at options and necessary precautions

Most people shun the harsh summer temperatures, preferring to exercise indoors, but others embrace the challenge – and benefits – of extreme-temperature training.

Dehydration, heatstroke, cramps and muscle spasms are some of the risks associated with exercising in very high temperatures. Antonie Robertson / The National
Dehydration, heatstroke, cramps and muscle spasms are some of the risks associated with exercising in very high temperatures. Antonie Robertson / The National

It’s the time of year when many of us stare wistfully from the windows of our air-conditioned homes wondering whether we should brave the fiery heat to go for a jog. Yet for some, exercising in extreme temperatures is nothing out of the ordinary – and a hardy few even swear by it. Whether it’s Bikram yoga, in which participants take part in a 90-minute class in temperatures of more than 40°C, or one of the region’s military boot camps, which operate year-round undeterred by our scorching summer, extreme-temperature training is here to stay.

Bikram advocates are quick to extol the benefits of hot yoga. The heat is said to stimulate organs, aid digestion and enable participants to stretch deeper than usual. It’s also thought to be great training for the mind. The idea is that if you can stay focused while you’re balancing on one leg, dripping with sweat and feeling slightly dizzy, you’ll be better equipped to stay calm and centred in challenging situations outside the yoga room.

Yet there’s reason to be cautious. Medical experts warn of several risks associated with alfresco summer training – including heat cramps and muscle spasms caused by loss of water and salt, which can lead to dizziness and nausea. Most worrying of all is heatstroke, when exposure to the sun can cause body temperature to rise above 40.6°C – which in severe cases, can lead to coma or even death.

Dr Ihab Ramadan at Medcare Hospital in Dubai has experience treating people with heat-related issues during the summer months, though he says most cases he sees relate to people who work outside, such as construction workers and cleaners. “People who exercise outside tend to be quite sensible and realise you have to be careful during the summer months. But we do get a few of them every year.”

Ramadan explains that while extreme-weather training is possible, precautions are necessary. He recommends gradually building the length and intensity of a workout to help the body acclimatise. Adequate hydration is most important, so you should start upping your water intake as early as two to four hours before you exercise. Then during your session, quench your thirst every 15 minutes and increase your daily intake to around four to six litres if you’re exercising hard.

There are some people for whom extreme-weather exercise is definitely not suitable, including pregnant women and children under 16, who are much more likely to overheat. Additionally, if you suffer from heart problems, or high/low blood pressure, you should consult your doctor first.

It’s not just heat that extreme-exercise aficionados are into. Extreme cold can be just as challenging, according to Renuel Sanchez, who runs the UAE’s MMA Fitness Centre, which offers regular Snowrobics classes at Ski Dubai. This extreme circuit-training class takes place in sub-zero temperatures and helps to burn fat, build muscle and improve overall fitness.

Studies have shown that training in cold weather increases the amount of calories you burn, improves the breakdown of stored fat and improves your athletic performance. As Sanchez puts it: “Exercising in cold temperatures will make your body work more than the usual, because it’s already trying to lower your body temperature, so adding this type of exercise will help you exert even more effort.”

As with extreme heat training, Sanchez explains that cold-weather exercisers should take precautions, too. “Talk to your doctor if you have asthma or other lung problems like bronchitis, because breathing will be more difficult, as cold, dry air can tighten the lungs. And as usual, any heart condition is something to be discussed beforehand,” he says.

The team behind the icy wellness centre Cryo (www.cryo.com) are excited by the beneficial effects of freezing, too. Their superfast, whole-body freezing sessions are designed to reset your nervous system, flush toxins and trigger a burst of healing endorphins. While cryotherapy is often done before or after a workout, for enthusiasts such as recruitment consultant Ben McCabe, it has become a regular part of his extreme-temperature training. “The cryotherapy sessions help me to cool down after outdoor training, plus lose weight and burn extra calories. I’m currently doing a mix of indoor and outdoor training with my trainer, along with an hour of outdoor football. While it’s pretty gruelling in the heat, it’s a great way to build endurance and train your body to work well in different climates.”