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Like to work out in the heat? Try pouring cold water over your head

Jordana Divon
Shine On
August 15, 2012

Back in 1999, Martin Lawrence made headlines after he slipped into a coma.

While a coma is a terrifying ordeal for anyone, the Bad Boys star's medical malady was notable for its cause. Lawrence had collapsed from heat exhaustion while jogging on a sweltering California day.

Once he regained consciousness, the popular actor admitted he had swaddled himself in heavy layers of clothing that morning — much like boxers do — into order to lose weight for an upcoming movie role.

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Instead of a few extra pounds, Lawrence's weight loss tactic nearly cost him his life. When his girlfriend found him on the front lawn, his temperature had soared to 107 degrees. Doctors had to put the 34-year-old on a ventilator and there was a fear he would suffer long-term kidney damage from the dehydration he had inflicted on his body.

"He was in very critical and unstable condition when he arrived," a hospital spokesperson said at the time.

The actor's near-brush with death brought the dangers of exercising in the heat to the forefront of public consciousness.

More recently, a group of researchers at California State University in Fullerton have been experimenting with additional ways to safely break a sweat during the scorching summer months.

As the New York Times reports, the scientists tried pouring cold water over the heads of overheated runners to see if the tactic would bring more than external relief.

It turns out an Evian shower, in combination with frequent sips of chilled H20, improved athletes' ability to perform in the heat.

Researchers assembled a group of 10 male athletes in top shape.

They hooked the athletes up to heart monitors and temperature gauges to mark their vitals as they walked briskly on a treadmill for 90 minutes, followed by a 5-kilometre run in a heated laboratory.

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During one trial, runners completed their task without being given any fluids.

Another controlled experiment saw researchers give the runners a drink of cold water every 10 minutes.

To test their response to a third trial, the researchers poured the cold water over the athletes' heads, allowing it to drip down their necks.

Finally, the runners were allowed to sip the water while simultaneously receiving a splash of the cold stuff over the noggin.

Not surprisingly, the athletes felt best when they experienced a combination of drinking water and an impromptu cold shower. And while the one-two water combo had no effect on their performance times, the volunteers said their runs felt easier and their skin temperatures lower.

Though these findings may help exercisers work out more effectively in the heat, lead researcher Colleen Munoz cautions against playing around with the body's own internal cooling system.

If you push yourself too hard because the cold water is making you feel better, she says, there's a slight risk you could still end up with heat exhaustion, particularly in humid conditions.

However, if you are smart about how hard you exercise and make sure to keep your body properly cooled and hydrated, the study's authors say their findings can help athletes make the most of their steamy weather workouts.

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The problem with overheating is that the muscles start to break down into proteins. These proteins enter the bloodstream and can clog up the kidney — the organ taxed with maintaining a clean blood flow.

Extreme overheating can lead to kidney failure and even brain or heart damage.

Dehydration can also result from the loss of vital body fluids that escape when we sweat too much without replenishing the supply.

Grey Bruce Public Health in Owen Sound, Ont. recommends wearing loose clothing, taking frequent sips of water, avoiding alcoholic, caffeinated, or sugary beverages and avoiding sports or high-energy activities during peak hours of heat.

Watch the video below where Shine editor, Sarah Weir, talks about her experience trying a Dr. Oz 2-day cleanse.

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