Summer Safety Tips: What Happens to Your Body in Extreme Heat?
Across the globe, hot days are getting hotter and more frequent. The US went from an average of two heat waves per year in the 1960s to six per year during the 2010s. Heat waves are defined as a period of unusually hot weather that typically lasts two or more days and to be considered a heatwave the temperatures have to be above the historical averages for a given geographical area. At the same time we are seeing record highs and we are experiencing fewer cold days. This pattern was evident in January 2019 when there were 17 cold record temperatures compared to 269 heat record temperatures. This is why we put together our top summer safety tips to help you stay cool and enjoy your summer!
SUMMER SAFETY TIPS: How Does Your Body Deal With Heat?
Sweat is the correct answer. When outside temperatures rise, the body reacts by increasing the heart rate which pumps blood faster to the skin’s surface to move the heat from within the body to the surface causing us to sweat. When sweat evaporates the body cools down. The body’s normal core temperature is around 97-98 degrees Fahrenheit. If it heats up to 102-105 degrees, the brain tells the muscles to slow down, and fatigue sets in. At around 105 degrees, heat exhaustion is likely and above 106 degrees, the body starts to shut down.
Extremely hot weather can make people sick and even die. Heat waves that occur earlier in the spring or later in the fall can catch people off-guard and increase exposure to the health risks associated with heat waves. Extreme heat can make existing health problems worse and can cause heat stroke or heat exhaustion even in healthy people. Older adults, the very young, and people with mental illness and chronic diseases are at the highest risk. However, even young and healthy people can be affected if they participate in strenuous physical activities during hot weather which is why it is important to practice summer safety. Summertime activity, whether tanning on the beach or playing sports on an outdoor field, must be balanced with actions that help the body cool itself to prevent heat-related illness.
Exposure to UV radiation from the sun damages your skin, this is something we can never overlook when talking about summer safety. Children are especially vulnerable because they tend to spend more time outdoors and can burn easily. Long term sun-exposed skin can cause cancer to the scalp, face, lips, ears, neck, chest, arms, hands, and legs. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.
Here are 4 summer safety tips to protect you and your family from harmful UV rays.
- Avoid sun exposure in the middle of the day. UV rays are the strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Keep in mind that clouds offer little protection, and UV rays can bounce off surfaces like water, sand, or pavement, leading to increased UV exposure.
- Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor, or SPF, of at least 30, put on a generous amount, and reapply every two hours, or more often if you’re swimming or sweating. Apply on all exposed skin, including your lips, the tips of your ears, and the backs of your hands and neck. Check the expiration date.
- UV radiation also can burn your eyes which can feel painful or gritty. Too much UV light can damage the retina, lens, and cornea. Sun damage to the lens can lead to clouding of the lens or cataracts. Look for sunglasses that block both types of UV radiation — UVA and UVB rays.
- Sunscreens don’t provide complete protection from UV rays. Consider using bright, tightly woven clothing that covers your arms and legs, and a broad-brimmed hat that provides more protection than a baseball cap or visor. Some companies also sell photoprotective clothing, with a UV protection factor, or UPF, rating similar to the SPF rating of sunscreens.
SUMMER SAFETY: OUTDOOR WORKOUTS
The biggest concern for physical activities in the summer is heat. People can easily miss the early signs of dehydration, heat exhaustion, or even heat stroke. It’s imperative you know the signs, and that you pay attention to what your body’s telling you. The heat can cause a number of problems, all of which can throw you off your fitness goals so be ready for all of them.
Here are tips for exercising in the heat:
- Avoid the hottest part of the day – typically around 10am to 4pm. Try getting up early or exercising later in the day or early evening. Many athletes prefer to work out earlier in the morning to stay energized throughout the day and to sleep better at night
- Wear light color and weight clothes – bright colors reflect the sun and dark colors absorb it. Heavyweight, tight-fitting clothing will heat you up. Keep it loose. Keep it light. Cotton is lightweight and allows more air to circulate over your skin, keeping you cool.
- Water is your friend – Try swimming, surfing, or paddle board as these activities will help you stay fit and healthy and provide a new way to stay cool. Drink enough water but not too much. The general rule is to drink before and after exercise and when thirsty at other times. Stay away from sports drinks. A good way to know that you’re hydrating properly is by checking the color of your urine. If it’s pale yellow (think lemonade), you’re well hydrated. If it’s darker (heading toward the color of apple juice), drink more.
- Know your limits – the most important summer safety tip is to never let yourself get to a point of feeling faint, dizzy, and sick. Listen to your body and if you start to feel dizzy, nauseous, or tired, give yourself a break. Break it up into small workouts throughout the day.
Listen to your body. If you’re feeling any of the following, find air-conditioned comfort fast.
- Dizziness/Paling of the skin
- Muscle cramps
- Nausea or vomiting
- Rapid heartbeat
HOW TO SLEEP IN HEAT
If you don’t have central air conditioning or a wall/window unit, it can be very hard to sleep during hot summer nights. Your body needs to maintain a core temperature that is normal or slightly less than normal for your circadian system to function properly at night. The brain needs to be a fraction of a degree cooler than the rest of the body to achieve optimal sleep. When the brain is too hot this can affect both deep sleep and REM which results in more tossing and turning throughout the night, causing restlessness and interrupted sleeping patterns.
Here are some tips to beat the heat.
- Keep hands and feet out of the duvet – say goodbye to socks and let your toes and fingers breathe at night.
- Use thin sheets – reduce bedding and use cotton sheets to help with sweat. Remove blankets or other items that may cause you to overheat.
- Choose the right sleepwear – consider sleeping naked and definitely choose cotton materials. Expose the hands and feet to keep cool.
- Remember the basics – use curtains or blinds to keep the sun out, open windows on breezy days, and if using fans, make sure blades are free of lint and dust. Heat rises so on really hot nights move downstairs to sleep. Ventilate the attic and move hot air out of the house.
- Cheat your sheets – Put bed sheets in the fridge; fold them and place them in a bag then in the refrigerator for about one hour before bedtime.
- Ice the air – invest in a good fan and then get a tray, fill it with ice and little water. Place directly in front of the fan and as the ice melts it makes air above the water cooler.
- Stay calm – If you’re struggling to sleep, get up and do something calming. Try reading, writing, or even folding clothes. Just make sure you don’t play on your phone or a video game – the blue light makes us feel less sleepy and the activity is stimulating. Return to bed when you feel sleepy.
- Prioritize a mattress that actively cools your body during the night. A cooling mattress can be your best bet to help you sleep in the heat.
During the summer heat, stay out of the sun during the hottest hours, drink plenty of water, watch for dark urine, avoid constrictive clothing and avoid alcoholic beverages. If you suspect someone to be experiencing heat exhaustion or heat stroke, the primary response should be to get them cooled off immediately and call emergency services. Heat illness is preventable and the common denominator for prevention is Water, Rest, and Shade. Getting plenty of all three when outdoors is the best way to beat the heat and stay out of trouble.