Bad news for Texans: New research links obesity to heat


It seems harder to stay in shape over the summer, but now it’s official. New research from the University of Texas has linked obesity to the weather, indicating that sometimes it simply is too hot to exercise.

“We found that physical activity levels are lower and obesity levels are higher in parts of the country that have especially hot, muggy summers,” said Paul Von Hippel, an assistant professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs who wrote the study with University of Texas doctoral student Rebecca Benson.

The study also showed that not only are people less active and more obese where summers are warmer, but also where winters are colder and darker.

“If you live up in (Minnesota) it’s icy, it’s dark, people just don’t want to go outside and be active,” Von Hippel said. “You can feel the cold in a way that maybe a resident of Sherman, Texas, is not familiar with.”

This is bad news for residents of the Southeast, who can expect hot, muggy summers every year. Some individuals who try to be active outside during the summer often find themselves becoming discouraged as the heat slowly drains most of their motivation.

The study offers inspiration to Sherman residents to stick to an active lifestyle, however. Von Hippel said city planners often design walking trails for hikers and bikers, typically covered by trees so they are in the shade to encourage physical activity. Theresa Hutchinson, recreation manager of the Sherman Parks and Recreation Department, said Sherman does have some options similar to this to help residents exercise in spite of the rising temperatures.

“We have Herman Baker Park, it has a mile-and-a-half walking trail that goes around Pickens Lake; it’s pretty shady,” Hutchinson said. “There’s also some shady areas at Fairview Park.”

Hutchinson said the city prefers to have parks with trees, not just to have a natural-feeling park, but also to provide crucial shade. Hutchinson also mentioned that the Splash provides an opportunity for adults looking to exercise and beat the heat.

“We do have lap swim (at the Splash) where people can swim some laps, it is during our Learn to Swim time, but we have several senior citizens that enjoy doing water walking and exercise during that time as well,” Hutchinson said.

She also said that the city offers free indoor activities at the Taylor Street Complex, across the street from Fairview Park.

“We have pickleball on Tuesdays and Thursday mornings, and then we have open volleyball on Tuesday evenings and open basketball on Thursday evenings, so we do have some indoor options too to get away from the heat,” she said.

Denison Parks and Recreation Department Manager Sunny Mackey said that most of the parks in Denison are shaded and are heavily used year-round, and that Waterloo Lake also provides a cooler option to either walk or jog around.

“The other thing Denison has is … Waterloo Pool,” she said. “It is covered so … even if it’s really hot, or on the other side of that, really cold, the water stays pretty much the same.”

Mackey said the pool offers lap swim, organized swim classes, and even open swim sessions, and is available as early as 5:30 a.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays.

“Obviously that’s our main focus, is we want people to (be active), and not only that, our staff wants to be that way along with the city,” Mackey said.

The UT study comes with a physical activity map, showing the range of physical activity in the area and how it affects different individuals. It turns out although Coloradans are shown to have less body fat than the rest of the country, mountainous terrain has little effect on a person’s weight – it’s all about the temperature outside. To escape it, many individuals turn to air-conditioned gyms, a trend that Nautilus gym owner Jim Hall has historically seen.

Hall said gym membership usually goes up around the holidays, but that people who sign up during the summer are usually more committed to adding exercise to their routine.

“(Summer is) generally a pretty good time to work out because it’s not crowded, but a lot of the people who work out in the summertime, they’ve really thought about their buying decision and they’re serious, so they do the work,” he said.

Hall confirmed that the findings of the UT study were conclusive with local exercise trends.

“Traditionally our strong season is the first quarter, which is January, February, March,” he said. “… Then in the really great months, April, May and June, (people) can get outside and garden and do other things, and we have a little bit of a drop, but then we actually pick back up when it starts getting hot like this because we’re air conditioned, and the world is not.”

Dr. Robert Bennett, a cardiac surgeon at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital - WNJ, said exercising is an important habit to develop, even during the summer, as the benefits of exercise stretch beyond weight loss.

“With (exercise) you can help combat some health conditions, like exercising boosts good cholesterol in the blood, and that can help with many diseases like diabetes, diseases like stroke (and) high blood pressure,” Bennett said.

Bennett said exercise can also lift energy and even moods, and will help ward off common bone degeneration that occurs in women. Before a person takes up an exercise program, however, he recommended that it would be wise to consult a physician to determine if his or her body can handle the strain, and to remember safety basics.

“In general I would recommend exercise early in the morning or late in the evening when the weather’s a little cooler,” Bennett said. “Remember that you have to hydrate. You have to drink adequate amounts of fluid before, during and after your exercise if you’re going to do it outside. If you’re not going to run you can cycle, that’s another alternative; it’s not quite as dehydrating as running, but if you’re going to run in the middle of the day you have to make sure you’re replacing your fluids, and sometimes even a Gatorade or something like that would be helpful to replace the salts also.”

Von Hippel also warned that not every exercise strategy is effective.

“We have a challenge that people who live in other parts of the country don’t have,” Von Hippel said. “We have a challenge in the summer, and it just means we need to think individually and also as a people about how we’re going to handle that challenge. So when it gets to be this time of year, maybe that after-work run isn’t going to work so well. Maybe what would work really nicely is to swim first thing in the morning. So there are solutions, but that’s something you need to think about deliberately, otherwise you’ll find that you’re not doing anything.”

 

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