There's no denying it. We're approaching the dog days of summer and the thermostat is moving upwards at a steady and fast pace. The images of snow drifts piled as far as the eye can see is a distant memory. Ironically, we'll be longing for the sight of the changing leaves and crisp fall nights.
Summer is an adventure seeking, time of year and can happily be shared by all if we take the proper precautions. I encourage you to find out more and speak to your doctor about what your specific health concerns are regarding the heat. But there are some things we can do personally to help us weather this heat. Not to mention, dare I say... enjoy it.
1. Stay hydrated! Hydration is your body's number one defense against overheating. The "8x8 rule" is a good way of making sure you get enough water. (Eight 8-ounce glasses of water or non-alcoholic beverages a day.) This is the minimum needed for replenishing normal body fluids lost through the course of a day. Extreme temperatures and people with active life styles will need more. Alcohol dehydrates your body. If you're drinking alcohol, make sure you're increasing your fluids and do so responsibly.
2. Clothing makes the man (or woman)... comfortable. Light colors reflect the sun's rays, while dark colors will absorb them, causing the body to get warmer. Light weight fabrics and loose fitting styles help the air evaporate sweat and makes the body's natural cooling process work better. Try to choose clothing made from natural fibers, like cotton. Synthetic materials, like polyester, are often light in weight but are very much like wearing a plastic bag, not allowing for air to circulate around the skin, increasing the heat and sweat, but not allowing it to dry and cool off.
3. Sweating is a good thing. We're often embarrassed by our bodies sweating, but it's a natural process of cooling off. Perspiration beads up onto our skin; as it dries, our bodies feel cooler. Wiping it off actually slows down the process.
4. Avoid peak hours of the sun. The rays of the sun are the most direct between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. During these times, the heat can be overwhelmingly intense. Try to avoid strenuous activities during these times. If you must endure the elements during these times, increase your fluid intake and wear a wide brimmed hat to shield you from the rays. Don't forget sunscreen. And remember to take regular breaks and rest. If you get a headache or dizziness, stop and cool down immediately. These can be signs of extreme over-exertion. Seek medical attention if the symptoms persist.
5. Water play, it's not just for kids. Many adults think that splashing around is child's play. In fact, it's a great way to lower your core body temperature just enough to find relief. It can be something planned like visiting a pool or beach, but it can be as impromptu as jumping in the shower or hosing off in the garden. Either way, it's fun and refreshing.
6. Shade is "cool". The cool people hang out under the shade tree. Consider purchasing a re-usable canopy for your family. These have dropped down in price and can be easily opened in a matter of minutes. Generally, a 10'x10' is large enough for a picnic table or six lawn chairs. Please do not forget to anchor your canopy to the ground with stakes and weights (available separately at most sporting good departments).
7. Age is relevant. As we age, our body's ability to sense changes in temperature gets less pronounced. Also, symptoms of over exertion be more subtle. Check on older loved ones and neighbors during times of extreme temperatures. Air conditioning is best to help seniors tolerate the elements, but if none is available, offer them outings to areas which offer relief from the heat. Please be aware that some seniors choose to lower fluid intake due to issues of incontinence, this can be devastating and fatal. Checking on them often and in person will allow you to assess their risks of a dangerous situation.
Children, especially babies, have underdeveloped temperature regulators. Please dress them in a manner to keep them cool, but also offer protection from harmful sun rays. Consult your pediatrician before using sunscreen products on babies under the age of 6 months.
8. Healthy foods help in so many ways. In addition to the normal health benefits of eating well, many summer foods, like fruits and vegetables are high in water and nutrients. By choosing to enjoy these foods, we can increase our hydration levels, allowing ourselves to cool down. Cold treats offer immediate relief from the heat. Healthy popsicles can be made from yogurts, fruit or a mixture of both. Try to enjoy several light meals through the day, eating large quantities makes the body work harder to digest and can increase the heat made from it. Even a few degrees can make a difference in relief. A full digestive tract will retain body heat longer.
9. Listen to your body. Our bodies are constantly sending us signals about our health. Feelings of thirst are a sign that you're already dehydrated. Quick, heavy breathing can be a sign your body is trying to cool down, you also lose a lot of fluids in your exhale. Muscle spasms, headaches, dizziness, fatigue, vomiting, nausea are all signs of over exertion and heat stroke. Do not hesitate to seek medical attention if symptoms persist, these can be life threatening. Heat stroke is a medical emergency.
Quick cool downs are not a substitute for medical attention for heat stroke but can be used as a means to offer relief to discomfort. Some of these are iced cold drinks and damp towels. Ice can also be applied to major blood flow areas of the body (on the neck, back of knee, armpit, forehead, chest, feet, groin and inside of the elbow) to cool down the body quickly. Please be aware not to leave ice or icepacks on the skin for long periods of time, this may cause damage to the skin, especially in diabetics and those with compromised circulation.
10. Fresh Air. Air conditioning is ideal in extreme temperatures, but as long as air is circulating through a room, it can offer relief. Consider adding ceiling fans to move air as well as attic vents. Other items that you may want to consider are window blinds that help block direct sunlight, films that can offer shading to a room without blocking a view, new windows with double panes can over an air buffer from heat outside and protect from UV sun ray damage, and of course central air conditioning. Greenery in the yard will also offer some relief from the sun heating your home. Many older homes may have older windows that are unable to be open easily, giving it a greenhouse feel and making temperatures soar.