How to Survive a Heat Wave and Stay Healthy, Safe, and Happy (Heat Wave Part Two)

Part Two of a series, this article give suggestions to minimize the negative effects of extreme heat during a heat wave, including helping seniors and ensuring pets are well cared for.

In my previous article, Heat Wave Part One, I discussed what constitutes a heat wave, and also many of the health and safety concerns people face during a heat wave.  This article will look at some solutions to ensure you stay healthy and safe in the heat, and even ideas that can help you to enjoy this time and continue to be happy (rather than being completely miserable).  Although many of these tips are purely common sense, you may find some ideas here which have completely eluded you, and which you can now make use of. 

Wear Sensible Clothing to Beat the Heat

  • Wear natural fibers such as cotton, linen, and hemp.  These allow your skin to breath and perspiration to evaporate, which aids in cooling your body.
  • Avoid clingy or tight garments, as these prevent air circulation and make you retain excess heat.  Instead, choose looser styles that flow or skim the body's contours.
  • Select lighter colours, for obvious reasons...white reflects light/heat, while black (etc.) absorbs light/heat.
  • Bare isn't always better.  In fact, loose, gauzey fabrics which cover your body will keep you cooler than a skimpy, snug tank top and short shorts.  Not only does the fabric protect your skin from sunburn, it wicks moisture from your skin to aid in cooling, and in turn, the moisture locked in the fabric also cools you. Think of the people living in desert climates...they aren't walking around nude for a reason!
  • Hats are your friend!  Try cotton, canvas, straw, or other fabrics which absorb or are naturally ventilated.  Best to go with a wide brim to keep the sun off your neck and shoulders also.
  • Women, swap your high heels for lower styles or flats with good arch supports.  Why?  Two reasons:  walking in heels in the heat can cause cramping of the calf muscles and thighs, and this position also can lead to water retention around the ankles quicker than if you wear flat heels.  Puffy ankles and leg cramps vs. comfort?  Go for the comfort.  The diva in you should wait for the mercury to drop a little!  I should also mention that the synthetic material found in many of today's footwear, when worn sans stockings is a good recipe for blisters.  Ouch!  Instead, opt for leather or softer cotton/canvas fabrics.

Watch What You Eat and Drink During a Heat Wave

  • Most importantly, you'll need to stay hydrated.  Drink lots of water (that's the best liquid). How much should you drink?  Health Canada suggests it "depends on how much you're sweating. It might just be a cup or two an hour, or it may be several litres. Thirstiness is not a good gauge. It doesn't kick in until you've already lost enough water to contribute to heat strain."
  • Maintain your electrolytes.  Most people ingest enough salt in their diet to regulate their electrolytes, but if you work outdoors in the sun, or sweat excessively due to heavy excercise, you may need to take in more salt to avoid the risk of depleteing your electrolytes.  Speak with your doctor to determine what is best for you.
  • Although it is tempting to cool down with an ice cream cone, fudgscicle, or iced frappuccino, these treats are loaded in sugar and fat, and hence, calories.  Indulge just a little (after all, what's summer without a scoop of french vanilla icecream?), but remember that moderation is very wise. 
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeinated beverages, as they are diuretics which draw water from our bodies, leading to further dehydration. 
  • Avoid heavy meals, especially animal protein which puts more strain on your digestive system and can lead to muscle cramps.  Eat lightly.  Food is fuel in the form of calories; and you'll need to burn those calories at the same time your body is trying to deal with cooling itself.  (Specifically, a calorie is the amount of energy, or heat, it takes to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit); as sited at Discovery Health).
  • If you simply cannot resist the taste of a barbequed steak, try opting for a shish kebab instead:  alternate cubes (or thin slices, skewered accordian style) of beef, pork or chicken with vegetables and fruit, such as fresh mushrooms, sweet peppers, cherry tomatoes, pineapple, or mango.  Marinate if desired, cook on the barbeque, and you can still enjoy all the flavour of a large juicy steak, without the overload on your digestive system.
  • Eat as many fresh vegetables as you like...the more, the better.  They add to your overall water content (although not a substitute for drinking water), and are lower in calories than just about anything else you can eat.

Take Care of The Elderly and Infirm

  • If you have family, neighbours, or friends who are elderly or infirm, do your part to ensure they are cared for during a heat wave, as they may not have the means to do so themsevles, or more likely, don't want to "bother" anyone.
  • Check on them frequently and offer to run errands, such as grocery shopping and picking up prescription medication from the pharmacy.
  • You may want to ask if they are using hypertensive medication (for lowering high blood pressure) or antihistimines, as these meds can exacerbate the symptoms of heat strain and heat stroke.
  • Also check that their homes have proper ventilation and air flow.  If they have fans or portable window-mounted air conditioners, look to see that they are safe and in proper running order.  Close their drapes and open the windows if no central/portable air conditioning is available.
  • Be sure to invite them to join you on an outing, as they may be feeling housebound.
  • Check if your local mall runs an early morning walk around the mall's corridors, before the merchants are open for business.  I know of several small cities that offer this to seniors and others who desire a safe, monitored venue out of the harsh elements (winter or summer) to get a little exercise.

Remember Pets can Suffer During a Heat Wave, Also.

  • Never let your pet's water dish run empty.  If you must be away from your pet for many hours, leave two dishes of fresh, cool water for him, as a precaution.
  • Take your pet to the groomer and have his hair sheared shorter.
  • Walk your pet in shaded areas in the early morning or later evening.  Avoid the heat of midday, as he can overheat very rapidly.

Don't Forget to Have Some Fun!

  • If you find the heat is leaving you exhausted and lethargic, find an air-conditioned mall, coffee shop, movie theatre, mini golf, or indoor pool, for example, to cool off and perk you up.
  • Put on your bathing suit and some waterproof sunblock (SPF 50 or higher) and wash the car, or for that matter, the dog.  The back-spray from the hose is very refreshing, and may even end in a playful waterfight!
  • Speaking of water fights, break out the water guns and engage the whole family in a game of "water tag"...(don't forget the sunscreen).
  • This is the perfect opportunity to go to the park and blow soap bubbles. 
  • For every day of the heat wave, record the temperature and other interesting weather/community/family data on your calendar.  It will be fun to refer to in years to come.

A Final Reminder to Stay Safe... 

  • When swimming or boating, wear life jackets and sunscreen.
  • Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes and cut glare (see my related article).
  • Know the warning signs of heat stroke and how to give comfort and first aid in the event you need to help someone in durress.

A heat wave can seem unbearable at the time, but hopefully these few ideas will provide some relief, and help you to enjoy a healthy, safe, and happy summer.  Just remember...before you know it, the heat wave will be a distant memory, replaced by crisp autumn air and the unbelief that summer has yet again come to an end.

Copyright July 2010 by Sharla Smith

Photo courtesy Stock.xchng


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Sharla Smith
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