Whether you’re active outdoors or just running errands in the summer heat, you’ve got to keep your body cool to prevent heat exhaustion and even heat stroke—a more serious condition that can be deadly. Most people think it can’t happen to them, but the truth is, it can—when you’re not prepared.
While the body cools itself by sweating, if your temperature rises too rapidly and the body is unable to cool down, heat cramps, dizziness, nausea, headache, weakness, confusion, and even rapid, shallow breathing (a symptom of heat stroke) can set in.
Anyone 65 years of age and older—as well as those with chronic medical conditions—are more prone to heat stress, making the following tips even more important for them, and everyone, to follow:
Flavor your water—with fresh raspberries, cucumbers, lemons, and mint. You’ll drink more water if it tastes good, and drinking more water is what you need to be doing in the heat and humidity1. But don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink; you need to be drinking plenty of water throughout the day to stay hydrated. Keep a water bottle with you at all times to remind you; drinking with a straw can also help you drink more.
How to know if you’re hydrated enough: your urine should be a pale yellow. Any darker—and you’re probably dehydrated. Keep in mind that if you’re taking medications like decongestants, antihistamines, anti-hypertensives, and antidepressants, you may be more prone to dehydration, so talk to your doctor about taking extra precautions in the heat.
And while an ice-cold beer or frozen drink sounds like the perfect antidote to the heat, steer clear of alcoholic beverages on hot, humid days—or at least limit them. Alcohol is a diuretic, as is caffeine, which can further dehydrate you.
Wear white—and other light-colored, loose-fitting clothing. Loose-fitting tops and bottoms allow air to circulate between your skin and the environment. Black and dark clothing absorbs heat, which can make you even hotter. And when it comes to clothing, wear cotton or linen, natural fabrics that breathe. Moisture-wicking clothing is also a must when you’re exercising as it wicks sweat from your skin to the outer layer of the clothing where it can evaporate more easily.
Snack on watermelon and grapes. Both fruits have a high water content, which can help you stay hydrated. For a treat on super hot days, chill both before eating (grapes can also be frozen before eating). Avoiding hot foods and spicy dishes can also help keep you cooler. In fact, it’s probably best to keep the stove off when it’s hot, opting instead for no-cook foods like salads.
Set your alarm clock for an earlier wake-up. Getting out to walk your dog, exercising, and just doing things around the house in the early morning—when it’s cooler—can help you avoid heat exhaustion. Whenever possible, avoid the midday heat, between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun is strongest. A good rule of thumb for any outdoor activity is: if the temperature is above 80°F and the humidity is above 80%, the heat index (a measure of how hot it really is) may be too high and it’s best to postpone it until it’s cooler—unless you’re in the pool.
This helpful heat index advisory chart from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration2—used by the National Weather Service to determine heat index—can help you determine what you do outdoors, and when:
Wear a wide-brimmed hat—not a baseball cap or visor. It can shade your entire face, back of the neck, and ears from the heat of the sun—and help you avoid sunburn, which can prevent the skin from dissipating heat and cooling the body. Sunglasses and sunscreen—with SPF 15 or higher—can also protect you and prevent you from getting a heat- and sun-induced headache.
Seek out water. Whether it’s an aerobics class in the pool or just a regular spritzing with a handy ice-filled spray bottle, there’s no question that water will keep you cool. (Just be sure to avoid outdoor pools of water if there’s a storm.) Even a cool bath or shower—or cool, wet cloths and towels placed over your face and neck—can keep you cool by lowering your body temperature. Seeking out air conditioning, and shade, whenever and wherever possible are always good stay-cool options, too.
Whatever you decide to do this summer, always err on the side of caution. That golf or tennis game can always be rescheduled to another day.
1 If your doctor generally limits the amount of fluid you drink or has you on water pills, ask how much you should drink while the weather is hot. 2 From “Beat the Heat Weather Ready Nation Campaign”, National Weather Service, Office of Climate, Water, and Weather Service; http://nws.noaa.gov/os/heat/index.shtml#heatindex
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