Combat the Effects of Heat Stroke in Strenuous Activity

If you spend time outside pushing yourself extremely hard, you may be at risk of suffering heat stroke.

Have you ever had to push your body extremely hard? In a typical career field, most individuals don't have any hurry to a particular task, and heatstroke is therefore rarely an issue. In a training environment (for military, SWAT, police, firemen, and other applications), however, there are a number of factors that make heatstroke inherently likely. For soldiers and SWAT trainees in particular, the training environment includes a number of factors that make it difficult to take the appropriate steps and prevent yourself from suffering heat stroke or heat exhaustion.

In military style training, there are a number of factors working against the trainees. Events are often timed, and personnel are rated on how effectively they complete a particular event relative to that time. Thus, it encourages the team to push harder and faster, and doing this elevates respiration and heart rate above normal. Furthermore, tactical training usually requires soldiers to have their attention on their surroundings and constantly moving, and this means that they often have difficulty finding the time to hydrate themselves properly. Adding injury to injury, trainees often wear thick and heavy gear and armor that does not allow body heat generated during the exercise to dissipate, heating the trainee up more than usual and making them suffer a bit more.

The basic factors above, however, are not an option in either training or combat; you must have the gear you carry in order to survive, and you must make it to the end of the mission, or your teammates will have to carry you out. How, then, can you combat the effects of heatstroke if you cannot avoid the basic factors heating you up, including heavy exertion, exhaustion, possible lack of nutrition, diminished ability to hydrate, and a high amount of weight?

The mind is in control of the body's operations, and it has a powerful effect on the body's systems. Slight fluctuations in hormones, chemical messages initiated by the brain, can implement massive changes. If you feel yourself getting hot, the worst response is to become frustrated. Have you ever noticed how getting irritable can make you hot? It elevates your heart rate and makes your body run hotter than normal. Much of how your body responds to heat is in your mind. If you force yourself to relax and let your body handle itself, your heart rate will remain lower and you can avoid falling down from the heat.

There is a certain limit to what your body can take. The body is essentially an aqueous solution, and it needs a certain mix and quantity of vitamins, minerals, electrolytes, and water to function. It is the alteration of this mix that changes how your body is feeling. Often, trainees are encouraged to drink water, but they are not given the opportunity to replenish electrolytes. The message has been received that those who exercise need electrolytes in a number of arenas (consider Gatorade from the Florida Gators and "Victory Punch" from Basic Combat Training, for example). Many, however, still over water their trainees, and this can result in washing out the electrolytes present and bringing the trainee down.

Like losing weight, suffering heat stroke is a mathematical equation: it happens eventually. The longer and harder you push without rest, the more likely that your body is going to stop cooperating. You can feel the physiological effects of this as it starts to happen, and recognizing these typical symptoms is good, because there is a point at which you have to stop or suffer the wrath of your body.

1. You get nauseous.

2. You don't feel like drinking or eating anything.

3. You start to get dizzy and tired.

4. Your heart rate becomes fast and weak.

5. You feel extremely hot and alternatively cold.

6. You don't feel well and are unable to continue pushing.

7. You become disoriented and forgetful.

The steps above are progressive in severity, also: as you begin to suffer from them, it becomes increasing difficult to step back down the chain and return to normal, especially if you are outside. Recognize these steps and avoid the pitfall of suffering a heat injury.


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William J. Felchner
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Posted on Aug 21, 2010
Susan Kaul
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Posted on Aug 21, 2010