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Tips for parents: Back-to-school sports call for caution

Fall sports can offer healthy opportunities, but scheduling non-stop practices in heat and humidity can make school sports risky, a Kansas State University specialist said.

Weather can elevate the risk for any sports participant, yet a cross-country runner, clad in loose-fitting shorts and a lightweight T-shirt is apt to fare better than a football player wearing a helmet, shoulder and knee pads and a jersey, said Tanda Kidd, K-State Research and Extension nutrition and physical activity specialist.

"Protective equipment is necessary, but it can hold the heat close to the body and diminish the body's ability to cool itself," said Kidd, who recommends scheduling sports practices and physical activity during cooler morning or evening hours when possible.

"Even swimmers can be at risk," she said, noting that, despite the water in the pool, a swimmer can work up a sweat and lose essential body fluids.

"Scheduling regular water and rest breaks to replenish fluids lost through perspiration is recommended," Kidd said. "Thirst is a sign of dehydration, and waiting until thirsty to replace fluids is not recommended."

Signs of dehydration can include muscle cramps and an irregular heart beat, she said.

"With dehydration, a person may be unable to sweat enough cool the body. Then, as the body temperature rises, the risk of heat stroke increases," said Kidd, who recommends drinking at least one half cup of water about every 15 to 20 minutes to replace fluids lost during physical activity.

Kidd said she does not recommend replacing lost fluids with caffeinated beverages, such as iced tea or a carbonated beverage. Caffeine is naturally dehydrating, so choosing a caffeinated beverage will increase, rather than relieve, dehydration.

Caffeine also is a stimulant that can increase the heart rate, she said.

She also encourages those who are physically active not to replace lost fluids with sugary fruit juices and carbonated beverages: "Sugar is typically slow to exit the digestive system, and may cause a tummy ache."

If exercising for 60 minutes or longer, choosing a formulated sports drink to supplement water may be in order, Kidd said. Formulated beverages typically include salt (sodium chloride), an essential electrolyte that regulates the amount of water in body systems.

A sports drink also will typically have less sugar--about six to eight percent--than a carbonated beverage, which usually has 10 to 15 percent sugar, said Kidd, who also is a registered dietitian.

"Consuming fruits and vegetables with high water contents during meals and snacks can be helpful in rehydrating the body, yet eating immediately before exercising is not recommended," Kidd said. "It takes about 20 to 30 minutes for foods to start moving out of the stomach and through the digestive system. That's why old advice--don't go swimming until 30 minutes after eating a light meal or snack--is still good advice."

In the heat, she encourages people to take rest breaks in the shade and to learn to recognize the signs of heat stroke and heat exhaustion.

Early warning signs of heat exhaustion may include heavy sweating, nausea, vomiting, a feeling of weakness or dizziness and any combination of those symptoms. With heat exhaustion, body temperature usually remains close to normal.

If heat exhaustion is suspected, Kidd said, loosen the clothing of the person suffering from heat exhaustion, encourage him or her to drink fluids, especially water, and to lie down and elevate their feet slightly. Apply cool, wet cloths to the forehead, and fan the person. It's also a good idea to move him or her to a shaded area, air-conditioned facility, or fan-cooled room.

Early warning signs of heat stroke include a rising body temperature (104 degrees F or higher); inability to sweat (skin is dry, flushed); difficulty breathing; confusion or agitation, nausea and vomiting. If heat stroke is suspected, seek medical treatment immediately.

More information about physical activity and health is available at the county or district K-State Research and Extension office or log on to Extension's websites: www.ksre.ksu.edu or www.ksre.ksu.edu/humannutrition/.

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