Episode 17: Should we be playing in extreme heat?

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Australia has just sweated through one of the hottest summers on record with multiple heat waves across the country.

Playing through 40 degree temperatures have been our cricketers and tennis players while the winter athletes have been slogging it out on the training paddock.

Associate Professor Ollie Jay from the University of Sydney is an extreme heat researcher who has consulted with the National Rugby League and Cricket Australia in measuring and developing extreme heat policies.

In November 2017 Dr Jay’s heat policy came into effect for the Rugby League World Cup when matches were played in the humid conditions of North Queensland and Papua New Guinea.

Dr Jay explains that the temperature we see on the news is only the temperature measured in the shade. It’s often a lot warmer in direct sun which is where the majority of sport is played.

A further contributor to heat policies is the humidity. Humans cool due to sweat evaporating from the skin. If the humidity is high then sweat can’t evaporate and as a result we don’t cool as quickly.

Dr Jay also points out that developing a one-size fits all approach is very difficult for sport. Each sport has different levels of intensity and therefore heat impacts athletes differently. A cricketer standing on the boundary is going to be able to tolerate heat better than a tennis player sprinting around the court for three hours.

Dr Jay also provides some strategies that even the local athlete can apply to training and playing in the heat including sitting in an ice bath before play to lower body temperature, using ice wrapped in towels, spraying water on the skin and remaining hydrated.

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