Rumor has it this summer will be a hot one and with climate change swirling around us, we’re likely to have more dog days than ever. At least that’s what the Farmer’s Almanac says is in store, so might as well prepare. Though we never know exactly when the real heat will hit, when it does, handle it with care. Even if you’re fit and not battling a chronic illness, keep in mind that extreme bouts of heat can have dire consequences for anyone. And if you have people in your life who may have trouble regulating body temperature – the very young, the elderly and those with conditions such as obesity, diabetes and/or cardiovascular problems, keep your eye on keeping them cool too.
The fact is, we’re all vulnerable in varying degrees, so go easy on yourself when temperatures climb. Wear light-colored clothes to reflect the heat, hats and sunglasses to shield your eyes and drink plenty of liquids. What else can we do to avoid heat-related ills? Here are some timely tips to help get you through the sizzlers to come:
1) Make your home a cool cocoon.
- Keep the house cool with an energy-efficient air conditioner and reduce daytime heat gain with window coverings like blinds, shades and curtains – and keep them all closed during the day.
- If you notice you A/C isn’t cooling very well, consider that your reminder to clean A/C filters. Ideally, you should give them a rinse weekly to prevent dust and dirt from building up and blocking the flow of cool air.
- Keep the oven off during the day. If you have to do some roasting or baking, do it late in the evening and as infrequently as possible when temps are high.
- Dishwashers can generate a tremendous amount of heat, so wait till it’s truly full before running it, and run it at night or as little as possible during the summer months.
- In a pinch, use the dishwasher even less by occasionally dining with compostable plates and utensils for casual meals on particularly sweltering evenings.
- If the power goes out or your A/C conks out in the middle of a heat wave, cool off with frequent showers or keep a tub full of cool water to use as your impromptu dunk tank, or better yet, bunk in with an air-conditioned friend or relative or even stay at a hotel for a night or two. Other options are to head to an air-conditioned location like a library, theater or cooling station. Studies show that as little as two hours spent in an air-conditioned location can reduce the risk of dangerous heat-related illness – so keep cool (and be creative about it if need be).
- Fans are a help but they don’t actually cool the air – they move the hot air around, actually speeding dehydration when temps soar! If a fan is all you have to work with for the duration, try cooling small spaces the old-fashioned way – with a fan pointed at a pile of ice in metal bowl (at a safe distance, of course) to catch the melt.
2) Move with care, indoors and out.
During heat waves, concrete and asphalt soak in the heat by day, then release it at night, making the ambient temperature feel oppressive long after the sun’s gone down. Air quality tends to plummet as well, so just because the sun has set doesn’t mean dusk is a great time to go for a 5K run in the park. Even if you are quite fit, exercising in hot, humid conditions may be too much stress on your heart, so why risk it? Instead, take a more conservative approach and work out in your A/C-cooled home or sign up for a short-term summer membership at a local gym to maintain your routine till things cool off in September. If you absolutely must go for a run, mow the lawn or pull up weeds in the garden, do so in the hours just before and after dawn, when the air is at its most temperate.
3) Use “cooling breaths” to chill body and mind.
To cool down anytime, anywhere, take advantage of the “cooling breath” technique. Also known as Sheetali Pranayama or Sitali Pranayama, this simple, centering exercise is a yoga breathing technique known for cooling down the body. It involves curling your tongue, breathing in through the mouth, and slowly exhaling. Click here for detailed instructions, and teach yourself how to chill your body and mind on demand.
4) Cool your belly with smaller, lighter meals.
Ever notice how “comfort foods” that can be hard to resist in winter have considerably less appeal when temperatures start to rise? Think of this phenomenon as your body’s way of telling you to lighten up and give it a break. When you overload on food, your body has to work harder to digest it all, siphoning off valuable energy and generating internal heat to get the job done – the last thing your body wants to do in a heat wave. To keep your insides a bit cooler, lean on raw veggies, greens, salads, fresh berries and easy-to-digest foods that don’t require as much internal heavy lifting. Save the roasts and casseroles for January!
5) Cool the kitchen by not getting it all fired up.
We love to cook, but in summer, time spent near the stove can almost feel like a punishment. To keep the kitchen cooler and heat-driven tensions from boiling over, switch to non-stove/non-oven-based cooking. Think breakfast smoothies, cool, refreshing salads at lunch and cold veggie soups or veggie-centric dinners with (or without) small servings of lean protein. Got a slow cooker? Use it. They’re great for set-it-and-forget-it cooking that won’t heat up the kitchen. Want to cook even less? Further streamline meals with canned, smoked or pickled no-cook proteins like canned anchovies, sardines and salmon.
6) Chew on cooling foods.
Help hydrate your body not only by drinking plenty of liquids but also by eating them, in the form of nutrient-dense veggies and fruits with especially high water content. Among the most hydrating veggies to include in your summertime diet: cucumber, leafy greens, tomatoes, squash and celery. On the most-refreshing list in the fruit category are water-rich treats like watermelon, honeydew melon, strawberries and oranges.
7) Drink the drinks that really hydrate.
What do most people reach for when temperatures soar? Beer, specialty cocktails, coffee, soda and sports drinks – all lousy choices because they tend to encourage more frequent urination, dehydrating you when you’re trying to hang onto moisture rather than lose it. To hydrate well, stick to the basics and sip on any of the following throughout the day, before you actually start to feel thirsty: plain water; fruit-infused waters; lemon water (with a pinch of Himalayan salt); cucumber water; electrolyte-infused water; herbal teas; and coconut water. And always stay away from commercial sports drinks (unless perhaps you’re a pro athlete with a sponsorship) as they’re full of sugar, artificial sweeteners, food dyes and more sodium than most (non pro-athlete) people need.
8) Keep cool when stepping out.
Granted staying cool on subway platforms is more of a challenge for city dwellers, but no matter what your daily routine, dress for the weather, and then some. If you’re out an about in the middle of a heatwave, carry an umbrella to shield you from the sun – and potentially keep you considerably cooler. Also have a simple hand fan at the ready in case of a public transportaion A/C fail. Think light colors to reflect the heat, natural fibers to absorb moisture and ventilation, as in loosely woven fabrics and side vents on shirt bottoms to allow breezes to blow through. Pure cotton and linen, preferably loose and flowing will also help you beat the heat better than close fitting threads in non-breathable, man-made fabrics. Tend to start sweating when it hits 70 degrees? Then avoid rayon too, either on its own or blended with natural fibers – the stuff is hot, and not in a good way.