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It's hard to believe that school will be starting soon. Although not in the classroom yet, many students are already back at school with two a day practices for volleyball, football, band and a variety of other extracurricular activities. While many may worry about performing their best, they also need to take precautions to keep cool and hydrated so the heat doesn't sneak up on them.

A recent headline gripping the media noted that a former University of Arkansas and New York Giants football player died after suffering a heat-related illness at only 32 years old. While this was not sports related; it was heat related.

It is important to understand the symptoms of dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. In the Ark-La-Tex, the relative humidity stays around 40 percent while the temperature usually climbs to around 100 degrees F. The combination of these two factors makes the temperature seem like 110 degrees F. If you increase the environmental temperature to 110 degrees F, then the temperature feels like 137 degrees F and heatstroke becomes likely to occur.

The symptoms of heat exhaustion are dizziness, cold, clammy skin, nausea and headaches. The symptoms of heat stroke are high body temperature and dry skin, confusion, and unconsciousness. People suffering from heatstroke will feel chilly and have tingling arms and goose bumps. If you feel these symptoms, get out of the heat and seek immediate medical treatment. Begin cooling down with ice baths or other means.

Please don't ignore your body in this heat. Plan for your fluid intake before you go outside. Too much exposure to the heat combined with dehydration could be fatal for you or someone you love.

The first rule of protecting yourself against the heat is to drink plenty of water. Most rely on thirst to tell them to drink, but if you wait until you're thirsty, you have already began to get dehydrated. Once dehydrated, drink until the thirst is quenched and then drink a little more. This will re-hydrate you adequately. If you are active in the heat, you should drink at least 10 to 12 eight-ounce cups of fluid a day. Most active people lose more than 20 cups of fluid a day.

Be conscious about drinking enough water. Although we all know that water is essential, stress the importance of water to both your children, coworkers, band directors and coaches. To promote adequate hydration, drink two cups of fluid two hours before practice or outdoor activities. Drinking a lot of water during outdoor activities helps assure you are drinking enough water to help your body. Many doctors say if your urine is clear or light yellow, you're probably doing fine. Larger volumes of fluid intake during exercise are associated with greater cardiac output, greater skin blood flow, lower core temperature and a reduced rating of perceived exertion.

When taking in fluids, only use water or sports drinks. Avoid caffeinated, highly sweetened and carbonated beverages. These have the potential to dehydrate and contribute to nausea. Water is great for the purpose of re-hydration, but sports drinks are designed to make you want to drink more. Children will drink more sport drink than they will water because it has more taste and contains salt, which will make them feel thirstier.

The USDA knows the importance of water in our health. Regardless of whether the water you consume comes from the tap, a bottle or is eaten in foods, it has important health benefits.

When we do not get enough water, it can lead to muscle spasms, renal dysfunction, increased risk of bladder cancer and even death. If plain water is not to your liking, drink water infused with fruit or herbs. This is a smart way to hydrate without getting overloaded with sugar and calories.

If the thought of plain water doesn't appeal to you, infusing water with the essence of fruits, herbs and other botanicals may help you drink plenty of water without the excess calories, sugars and artificial flavorings. It's beneficial hydration in every refreshing sip.

For more information, contact the Miller County Extension Office, 870-779-3609 or visit us in room 215 at the Miller County Courthouse. We're online at cdue@uaex.edu, on Facebook at UAEXMillerCountyFCS, on Twitter @MillerCountyFCS or on the web at uaex.edu/Miller.

Carla Due is a county extension agent-staff chair, with the Miller County Extension Service, part of the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture.

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