The monsoon has spread across most of India. Along with rains it brings humidity. Can this have an impact on your workouts? Should this make you change your workout regime? And how does it affect your eating and drinking habits?
Humidity denotes the amount of moisture in the air. Relative humidity, or what you usually see when you Google the day’s weather prediction, tells us how much water vapor is in the air, compared to how much it could hold at that temperature. For example, if Mumbai’s weather report says the humidity today is 75%, it means that at that temperature, the air is holding 75% of the maximum water vapour it could hold.
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Now, how exactly does it impact our workouts? The most noticeable thing is that in humid weather, we tend to sweat more. “When we sweat, we lose water as well as salts, in the form of electrolytes—sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium etc. Now, all the organs require a good amount of blood flow to continue functioning well. If a person does not replenish what is lost, the organs try to manage at their level with lesser amount of blood supply to them. But if somebody’s organs are already on the edge of a disease per se, they topple to the other side and start behaving abnormally,” explains Dr Harish Chafle, consultant intensivist, and chest physician, Global Hospitals, Parel, Mumbai. Kidneys, for example, try to preserve water and electrolytes by reducing its loss through urination. If this fine tuning is not done by your organs, and then your creatinine levels may go up, you can lose potassium and your body will have to take the brunt. “Loss of potassium means muscle weakness. You tend to feel very tired even if you do the slightest of work in the humid environment,” says Chafle
So if humidity can lead to muscle weakness, should we even work out in this weather? Working out within your own limits should be fine, believes Chafle. What you can do is to decrease your workout intensity to suit the weather. For example, Someone running 6kms everyday can reduce the distance covered maintain her health. He says that one should look out for warning signs of humidity’s adverse effects on the body. “A higher heart rate is a sign of dehydration because the heart would beat more to provide the same oxygen to other organs. As a result one might feel palpitation or be a bit dizzy. He/she can feel muscle weakness which might show in the form of muscle cramp or aches,” says Chafle.
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Humidity can also directly impact our body’s cooling mechanism. Sweating is one of the main ways the body maintains its temperature. But cooling down by sweating only happens when the sweat on our skin evaporates. In extremely humid conditions, it is hard for the air to absorb sweat from our skin since it is already holding a lot of moisture. This does not stop us from sweating, and instead makes us feel hot and sticky.
The higher the humidity, the harder the body has to work to keep itself cool. This can also lead to a greater strain on the heart by depleting the body’s water content needed for sweating. This thickens the blood, and the heart has to work harder to pump the thickened blood throughout the body. You will see this play out as a higher heart rate if you use a wearable monitoring device during your workouts.
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Hydrating again is key. That does not just mean drinking a lot of water, but replenishing the lost electrolytes. “The nutrients which our body loses during a workout must be replenished again. Otherwise one risks low energy, fatigue, nutritional deficiencies like anemia, and even have a direct impact on blood glucose levels,” says Srishti Dhupar, senior nutritionist, ParaFit, a collaborative fitness website.
Intake of fruits and vegetables is a good way to maintain this balance. But high humidity can rot foodstuffs more easily, and can lead to food getting spoiled or generally losing its nutrients, says Dhupar. This is something to keep in mind to ensure that you’re receiving proper nutrition.
Humidity should never be an excuse to not work out, believes Jitendra Chouksey, founder and CEO, Fittr—an online fitness platform. Chouksey recommends running “at a time when the humidity is relatively less. For example, in Delhi, relative humidity is much lower in the evenings than early mornings. So you can choose a run post your work day. For workouts, try doing it in a gym which is air conditioned so that you do not feel sluggish. You do not have to suddenly switch to a western diet because its humid. Just make sure you hydrate yourself well.”
For runs, one can also choose shaded paths instead of heat-absorbing roads. It is important to run by feel instead of treating it like target pace. An article titled What Pace Should I Run In The Heat?, published in Runner's World magazine, has this to say: “The slow down factor varies from runner to runner, but in general, slowing down 30 to 90 seconds per mile is common in hot/humid weather.”
So, even if it’s humid, don’t hang up your workout gear yet. Instead, find the pace and place that works best for you and enjoy your workout. If you prepare well for humidity, a little extra sweat won’t hurt you.