By Dr. David Geier, American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine
High school and college football teams start their practices for the fall season in the brutal heat of the summer. Young players and their parents and coaches should start getting kids prepared for these conditions now to decrease the risk of heat illness when practice starts.
Deaths from exertional heat stroke are tragic events. A recent study of data from high school and college football showed that heat illness was the third most common cause of death with 38 players dying of heat illness in the 20 years studied. Every death occurred between July and September. Eighty-three percent of the events occurred when doing two-a-day practices and 44 percent occurred on the first day of practice.
Football players might be particularly at risk. While many football players are big and strong, many are also unfortunately obese (BMI greater than 30). Heat illness and exertional heat stroke affect obese athletes more than other athletes. The average BMI of the football players who died of heat stroke in the previously mentioned study was 33.9.
The weeks before summer practice starts are the perfect time to get into shape, not only to improve performance on the field, but also to decrease the risk for heat illness. Start by training inside to build cardiovascular endurance and strength. Think treadmill running and weight lifting. Starting to train early will help student athletes improve their fitness, and can also result in weight loss. As strength and conditioning improve, athletes can begin training outside to get used to the heat.
Athletes who start to work now will arrive to summer practice in shape. It will not only help their performance on the field, it might also save their lives.
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