Anyone finding themselves spending extended amounts of time outdoors this summer — doing yard work, exercising, or having fun in the sun — they need to protect your heart by avoiding heat-related illnesses, says Dr. Jay Geoghagan, a cardiologist with the Baptist Health Heart Institute (BHHI).

"As temperatures rise during the summer months, the stress on your heart also increases," Geoghagan said. "Exercise or any strenuous activity combined with hot air and Arkansas’ high humidity can cause a person’s heart rate to be much higher."

Warning signs of a heat-related illness include:

• Headache

• Heavy sweating

• Cold, moist skin, chills

• Dizziness

• Weak and rapid pulse

• Muscle cramps

• Fast shallow breathing

• Nausea, vomiting or both

"If you have any signs of heat exhaustion while outside, stop what you’re doing and get out of the heat," Geoghagan advised. "Rehydrate by drinking lots of water or a sports drink and remove extra clothing. Douse yourself with cold water and if the symptoms don’t improve after 30 minutes or you show signs of heat stroke, seek medical attention immediately."

Heat stroke symptoms include warm, dry skin with no sweating; a strong and rapid pulse; confusion and/or unconsciousness; high fever; throbbing headaches; and nausea, vomiting or both.

Avoiding heat-related illnesses while enjoying outdoor activities is possible with a few simple tips.

1. Hydrate. Drink at least one 8 ounce glass of water before going outdoors and then an additional glass of water for every 30 minutes of physical activity.

2.Go out early or late. Do strenuous outdoor activities early in the morning or late in the evening when temperatures are cooler.

3.Choose the right clothing. Wear loose-fitting, lightweight, and light-colored clothing in breathable fabrics like cotton or synthetics with moisture-wicking properties. Don’t forget a hat as well.

4.Take breaks. Find a cool place or some shade, stop what you’re doing for five or ten minutes, rehydrate, then start again.

"The single most important thing a person can do to protect their heart and avoid heat-related illnesses during the summer is to drink plenty of water," Dr. Geoghagan emphasized. "If the body is well hydrated then the heart can pump the blood more easily through the blood vessels to the muscles and the muscles can in turn remove waste to work more efficiently. Bottom line — the heart doesn’t have to work as hard."

Geoghagan now sees heart patients in Jacksonville and the surrounding communities at Jacksonville Medical Clinic located at 1300 Braden St.