Ah, summer – swimming, cookouts, longer days, maybe a vacation. And, oh yes - yard work, bugs, sweat, and heat. Every season has its joys and its sorrows. This summer, though, will be the hottest on record, as scientist tell us yet again.
Especially for those who work outdoors, high temperatures can be exhausting, can bring on serious physical issues, and can be deadly. For those who are indoors without air conditioning, heat can be just as bad, especially if they are very young, have chronic conditions, or are elderly. There are lots of ways to stay cooler, however, and here are some good reminders, as well as some new tricks you may not yet know based on what I’ve researched while trying to somehow survive that heat.
Our bodies do acclimate to the temperature changes of the seasons, if we spend time outdoors in those temperatures. Researchers say that if we get outside for about 2 hours a day, for 5-6 days in a row, our bodies will adjust and we will tolerate the temperatures better. This goes for both summer and winter.
This goes without saying, but sometimes we hydrate in the wrong ways. Soda and other sugary drinks do not do the job that water and some of the newer rapidly hydrating liquids with electrolytes do. Even while you do yard work, water should always be a companion.
People who engage in running or other aerobic exercise have a much easier time with high temperatures. This is because they are used to bringing their body temperatures up all year long, and their bodies acclimate to the high temperatures of summer better.
We all know that sweating is the body’s method of cooling itself. But, if you are outside and sweating, leave the sweat on your skin. Letting it evaporate naturally from your skin will actually make you feel cooler.
Your forearms are the slimmest part of your body, so for the volume they have, they also have the highest ratio of surface skin. Cooling these pulls heat out of your body faster. Firefighters often use this trick.
Heat islands are a real thing, and they are parking lots and other paved surfaces that have little green around. If you can find a space with grass and plants, you will be in a cooler environment. As plants take up moisture from the soil, they exhale that moisture, keeping the space around them cooler. Obviously, a tree with shade would be nice too. Stanley Cox, a plant breeder and frequent lecturer, authored a book titled, Losing Our Cool: Uncomfortable Truths about our Air-Conditioned World. In it, he speaks to the importance of green space and its natural cooling effects, especially in a world impacted by global warming. Increasing green space, he states, will help to keep our bodies and our planet cooler.
Changing over to compact fluorescent bulbs reduces heat emission from as much as 85 BTU’s to 3.4 BTUs – that’s a lot of reduction. And turn off everything you can when not in use – even computers.
If you are working outdoors, your body is obviously heating up. Getting into the shade for a short rest will be important. But that rest period should be at least 15 minutes and here’s why.
Even after you get into that cooler place, your body continues to heat up for a few minutes. You need 15 minutes for it to cool down and for your heart rate to decrease.
Everyone understands the use of fans, especially placed in open windows. These keep air circulating, and circulating air helps cool your body. But there are other devices that do even better than that. There are some DIY homemade “air conditioners” that can be made by moving air over ice. There are several versions of these types of cooling devices, all of them light enough to move from room-to-room.
Another newer appliance on the market is the portable air conditioner. While they are heavier, they come on wheels and can be moved from room-to-room too. According to cooling device reviewer, The Good Gears, these units have come a long way in recent years, are more efficient than window units, and save an amazing amount on electricity bills. Because you can move them from room-to-room, you can control exactly the amount of cooling you need based on where you are in your apartment or house. Senior citizens on fixed incomes, as well as anyone on a tight budget can really benefit from this great innovation. And because of their portability and targeted, use, they are much more environmentally friendly than whole house air conditioning. As we move further into this century, we will all have to become more aware of our energy use.
Most of us were taught that our window fans should be facing in at night. This is actually incorrect. Window fans should be facing out for maximum cooling effect. And ceiling fans should be run on high, but counter-clockwise.
Heavy meals increase your body temperature, and your digestive system has to work harder when you consume big meals. It is far better to consume several small meals throughout the day and let your body absorb those in small spurts.
Of course, you know that heating up your home with an oven is a big no-no in the summer heat. That’s why people had “summer kitchens” long ago. Grilling outside is the perfect alternative. Other alternatives are using small appliances such as rice cookers and crock pots. Using stove top burners generates a lot of heat too, whether gas or electric. Pots with covers contain the heat within those appliances and keep your kitchen much cooler.
You should already know this, but it is always a good reminder. Both of these beverages are diuretics and will dehydrate you quite quickly when consumed in large amounts. Here is a good rule of thumb for this. For every alcoholic beverage or cup of coffee you consume, drink six ounces of water immediately afterward. Yes, you will need to use the bathroom more, but you will also keep yourself appropriately hydrated.
You have probably heard this before too, but here is the thing about synthetic clothing, especially if it is worn close to the skin: it retains heat in your body. Yes, cotton wrinkles, but the trade-off is that you will feel so much better.
Pulse points cool your body quickly. Putting some ice (wrapped in a paper or cloth towel, applied to your wrists and neck will do an amazing job of cooling you pretty quickly. This is why you see roofers with towels around their necks. They dip them in cold water from coolers and wrap them around their necks.
If you air condition a room or your entire home, obviously energy efficient windows are important. But they are expensive, and not everyone can afford window replacement. As an alternative, buy insulated drapes and close them, especially on those windows where the sun comes in. Open the drapes at night and hang a damp towel in front of the window with fans on. And, open windows that are opposite one another, so you get the cross draft. In a two-story house, open windows downstairs and up, especially on opposing sides.
When the heat in your home is absolutely oppressive, don’t stay home. Go to libraries, coffee shops and stores. You can spend a great deal of time in these places and no one is going to kick you out. Homeless people learned this long ago, but if you have no air conditioning or are on a tight budget, use the air conditioning that someone else is paying for. And if you have a computer and need to do work, all the better. Even grocery stores now have computer stations for people. Buy a cold drink and maybe a snack and settle in.
When you have to get into a car that has been sitting in the sun all day, or even just an hour or two, you know the feeling. Here is a trick from the Japanese. Open one window. Then, open and close the door on the opposite side several times. This moves air quickly through the interior and cools it to a tolerable level.
If you have not yet seen the “Chillow,” check it out. For about $15 you can have a cooling device that you can hold against your body while you sleep. It’s shaped like a small pillow and you can either sleep on it (on top of your pillow) or hold it against your upper body. Another method of staying cool while you sleep is to use a wet top sheet. Wash a sheet in cold water, or soak it in the bathtub. Wring it out and cover yourself while you blow a fan in the room – you’ll be plenty cool.