The warmth of the summer can be great for organizing events and getting your friends out to play paintball and other sports, but the sun can creep up and cause some severe health problems if you aren’t careful. Every year, hundreds of people across the country die from heat stroke, and scores more suffer from other problematic conditions like heat exhaustion and dehydration. Staying cool and hydrated can mean the difference between a day cut short thanks to some potentially painful medical problems, and an exciting and comfortable afternoon. Here’s a little overview of how heat can affect you out on the field, and how to keep yourself as fresh as possible.
The most crucial factor in your overall health when playing paintball is hydration. Allowing your body to become dehydrated prevents you from moving at full speed and dexterity, stops you from sweating (and thus controlling body heat) and can even start to impact your mental state.
You may have heard in health classes or elsewhere that eight cups of water per day is all you need, but most scientists agree that this is a myth. There is no correct amount of water you should be drinking each day – as your level of activity increases, so should the amount of water you drink. Every field I’ve ever been to (except for informal group meetups) has somewhere to fill up on water, so be sure to drink regularly and fill up when you need to. You should also consider drinking products like
Gatorade or Pedialyte that contain electrolytes, which are critical if you want to keep fighting for more than a couple hours.
If you aren’t drinking enough water or taking breaks on a hot day, you may work yourself to the point where you suffer from heat exhaustion. At this point, your internal body temperature may rise slightly, and you are likely to be sweating a lot. You might feel nauseous or dizzy or start to have cramps. Any of these problems should be seen as a sign to take a break, sit in some shade, and drink water (preferably cold water).
If heat exhaustion progresses far enough, it can turn into heat stroke, a term used to describe a critical medical condition where your body temperature has risen so high that it begins to affect your level of consciousness (cite). Usually, when someone suffers from heat stroke, they stop sweating and may become very ill. If this ever happens to someone out on the field, you should immediately get them to drink water if they are conscious and drive them to the nearest hospital or urgent care.
Preventing Heat Injuries
Heat injuries can be severe but are thankfully avoidable under most circumstances. Like I said before, the most important consideration you can make is to stay hydrated. Drinking water allows your body to produce sweat, cooling you off as the moisture evaporates away from your skin. Proper hydration also enables blood to flow stronger to your skin level, cooling you off from the inside.
However, heat injuries can still happen even when you drink plenty of water. It is also important to take some time to sit in the shade and rest. Most people cannot withstand hours-long bouts of play with no breaks, and even if you push on, your aim and field performance is likely to be strongly affected. How much rest you need depends on your physical fitness, heat acclimation, and the current conditions outside. If it’s exceptionally hot on any given day, you may need to spend a majority of your time in the cool shade.
You may have heard people talk about their supposed resistance to warm or cold weather. There’s actually some science behind that – the longer you spend in certain weather conditions, the better your body becomes at controlling its internal temperature. I used to spend more time indoors, so when I started going outside and hitting the field, I at first needed to spend more time cooling off than others.
Nowadays, I take the heat like a champ, but still, take care not to exceed my limits. There’s no shame in taking as much time and water as you need to cool off. Your friends and teammates would rather you stay happy and healthy than go home early due to heat illnesses.
Make no mistake; heat injuries are a serious matter that can claim a life if you aren’t careful. However, if you just make sure to drink lots of water and get some time in the shade, you should be able to stay active and healthy for as long as you want. I recommend getting a hydrating backpack or some canteens that you can carry with you onto the field. Being able to take a sip of water while in between fights helps me to stay fresh and ready for the next target.