There are many things that are great about living on the coast during the summer but most people would say that the heat is not one of them. Last week I watched as two grown men stood in the 5 p.m. rain with their faces tilted up so they got a steady drenching of rain water. They looked like two dried out ducks that were being revived by the rain and I was really tempted to join them - I knew that feeling!
No matter our age, or how physically fit we are, we must all take the heat and humidity of a day into consideration before we plan outside work or exercise. Our bodies dissipate heat by varying the rate and depth of blood circulation, by losing water through the skin and sweat glands, and as a last resort when our blood is heated above 98.6 degrees by panting.
We might not be as loud or obvious but humans "pant" just as dogs do when they get too hot. Sweating cools the body through evaporation but high humidity can retard evaporation and rob the body of its ability to cool itself.
Every year, approximately 237 Americans succumb to heat. And it’s not just the elderly and ill that have problems with the high temperatures. It also kills healthy young people who don’t recognize the dangers of exercising in hot, humid weather and who don’t know when to stop outside activities. Extreme heat can be dangerous without the additional stress of exercise. Our body has to work harder to stay cool even when we’re resting in hot weather but when we’re exercising, our body creates even more heat which requires that it compensate for the additional body heat as well as the day’s temperature. This is normally done by producing more perspiration which cools the body as it evaporates. High humidity levels on a hot day mean that sweat doesn’t evaporate well because the air is already saturated with moisture so that while our body loses fluids, it isn’t necessarily cooling down.
Our body is a wonderful machine and can also get rid of excess heat by sending extra blood to the surface of the skin to cool it. But when this happens, it means that less blood is reaching your brain, organs and muscles which can cause you to feel weak, light headed and even confused. And if your body can’t cool itself in these ways, the body’s internal temperature will spike and you will become ill. If you’ve ever experienced heat exhaustion, you know how unpleasant these symptoms can be even if they are short term. Heat stroke - the most serious of the heat related illnesses - can cause permanent damage or death if it’s not treated immediately.
If you must exercise outside in this weather,
1. Do so early in the morning before 8 a.m. or after 8 p.m.
2. Avoid overdoing it and take breaks in shady areas often.
3. Listen to the weather reports - watch for the Heat Index, advisories and the UV index. The Heat Index (HI) is the temperature the body feels when heat and humidity are combined. Weather programs use it as a tool to measure how stressful the heat will be.
4. Avoid urban areas, seek shady environments and take frequent breaks.
5. Dress in lightweight, loose fitting clothing (best for the evaporation of sweat) and a wide brimmed hat. Wear sunglasses and choose waterproof sunscreen that won’t wash off when you sweat.
6. Keep hydrated - pay extra attention to your fluid intake when you exercise. Drink 8-12 oz. of water twenty to thirty minutes before you exercise and 6-10 oz. after every twenty to thirty minutes of exercise and again after you’re finished exercising. It’s important to drink plenty of water, even if you don’t feel thirsty.
7. Slow down and cool off if you start feeling fatigued, have a headache, a high pulse rate, shallow breathing or just "don’t feel right". Overheating can cause the following:
- Heat cramps: Exercising in hot weather can lead to muscle cramps, particularly in the legs, because of brief imbalances in body salts. Cramps become less frequent as a person becomes used to the heat.
- Heat syncope or fainting: Anyone not used to exercising in the heat can experience a quick drop in blood pressure that can lead to fainting. As with heat cramps, the cure is to take it easy.
- Heat exhaustion: Losing fluid and salt through perspiration or replacing them in an imbalanced way can lead to dizziness and weakness. Body temperature might rise, but it should not rise above 102 degrees. In some cases victims, especially the elderly, may need to be hospitalized. Heat exhaustion is more likely after a few days of a heat wave rather than when one is just beginning. The best way to prevent this is by taking it easy and drinking plenty of water. Consult a physician before taking salt tablets.
- Heatstroke: Heatstroke occurs when a person’s temperature exceeds 104 degrees F and their thermoregulatory mechanism is overwhelmed. Symptoms are lethargy, dizziness, disorientation, agitation, confusion, sluggishness, seizure, hot dry skin that is flushed but not sweaty, loss of consciousness, rapid heart beat, and hallucinations. Even a suspicion that someone might be suffering from heatstroke requires immediate medical aid. Heatstroke can kill.
Other tips to remember when the weather is extremely hot:
- NEVER LEAVE A CHILD OR PET UNATTENDED IN A VEHICLE. There have already been 16 deaths of infants and children this year because they were left inside a hot vehicle. Most people don’t realize that the temperature in a car can go over 114 degrees in less than 30 minutes even when the temperature outside the car is only 80 degrees. A body temperature of 107 degrees F is considered lethal causing damage to cells and internal organs to shut down. Thermoregulatory systems of children are not as efficient as an adult’s and their bodies warm at a rate three to five times faster than an adult’s.
• Stay indoors as much as possible and limit exposure to the sun.
• Stay on the lowest floor out of the sunshine if air conditioning is not available or spend the warmest part of the day in public buildings such as libraries, shopping malls and other community facilities..
• Eat well-balanced, light, and regular meals. Avoid using salt tablets unless directed to do so by a physician.
• People who have epilepsy or heart, kidney, or liver disease; who are on fluid-restricted diets; or who have a problem with fluid retention should consult a doctor before increasing liquid intake.
• Limit the intake of alcoholic beverages.
• Check on family, friends, and neighbors who do not have air conditioning and who spend much of their time alone.
• Avoid strenuous work during the warmest part of the day, use a buddy system when working in extreme heat and take frequent breaks.