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Kids Can Work Out In The Heat, As Long As They Play It Safe

Pediatricians recommend that kids acclimatize to the the heat by taking it easy the first two weeks of practice.
Pediatricians recommend that kids acclimatize to the the heat by taking it easy the first two weeks of practice.

Parents often worry about sending children out into the heat, but also know that spending the summer holed up in the basement with Nintendo isn't ideal, either.

Fear not. The nation's pediatricians say that children can handle workouts in the heat just fine. But they warn that coaches and student athletes don't always play safe when it's sweltering.

Doctors used to think that children couldn't handle exercising in the heat as well as adults, but they now say that's not true. A policy statement out today from the American Academy of Pediatrics is aimed at getting parents, coaches, and players to avoid mistakes that can lead to heat exhaustion and potentially deadly heatstroke.

"Some coaches' philosophy has been that you toughen up athletes by withholding water," Cynthia Devore, a school doctor in Pittsford, N.Y., who is co-author of the policy statement, told Shots. And student athletes can push themselves too hard, especially when they first start training for fall sports.

Last week, two high school football players in Georgia died, apparently from heat exposure. And in a press conference held last week by the Union of Concerned Scientists, a researcher discussed his findings that 2.8 young people have died per year practicing football in the heat since 1994, up from one death per year between 1980 and 1994.

Tragedies like those don't have to happen, Devore says, and prevention is simple. For instance, she says, young athletes need frequent water breaks, with 3 to 8 ounces of water ever 20 minutes for 9- to 12-year-olds, and 34 to 50 ounces of water an hour for teenagers.

That's a lot of H2O, but it's all most kids need — Gatorade or other sports drinks don't have much to offer kids except extra sugar, Devore says.

Other strategies to stay cool in the swelter include adapting uniforms to hot weather, so that kids are wearing light, loose-fitting clothing, and changing schedules so that they're not running around at the hottest part of the day.

Acclimating makes a difference, too. The pediatricians recommend 10 to 14 days at the beginning of pre-season training for athletes slowly ramp up practice time and intensity.

Parents, coaches, and kids also need to know that chronic illnesses, obesity, and even having recently been ill with vomiting or diarrhea can make a child much more susceptible to heat.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spells out the risks of heat illness, which it says kills more people than hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, floods, and earthquakes combined.

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