Alt-Health: Stay Hydrated!

hotsummerThe heat is officially ON. We’ve moved past the fireworks of the 4th and are now nearing the Dog Days of summer. Weeks stretch into afternoons at the beach and pool parties in the backyard, and leapfrog through open hydrants on city streets. In Rhode Island we’ve already had our first official heat wave and there are plenty more to come. In extreme degrees, the heat can be life threatening, so in order to get the most out of summer, here are some tips to help you avoid the hazards and keep you comfortable, even on the hottest days.

Whether you submerge yourself in it, drink it or freeze it into little cubes for your Long Island Iced Tea, water is the primary “must have” for health in the heat. This brings us to one of the most important items on the summer to-do list: stay hydrated.

When you become dehydrated, your internal temperature can rise to a dangerous level, even leading to heat stroke. If you are playing summer sports, try to schedule them for later in the day when the temps and the sun are both going down. Keep sports drinks on hand, and stock up on Pedialyte for the kids. We don’t just lose water when we sweat, we lose electrolytes as well.

Here’s a something that may surprise you: Hot drinks on a hot day can actually bring your body temperature down. When we’re thirsty, most of us yearn for something icy cold, so this is totally counter-intuitive. How does it work? The answer lies in your body’s natural cooling system: sweat. When you take a steaming sip of tea, the temperature in your body initially rises. But this also produces a copious amount of perspiration, and when it evaporates from your skin, a cloud of heat energy is released and whisked into the air. More sweat means more cooling. The one problem is that the sweat actually has to evaporate in order to work. If the sun is blazing and you are swaddled in protective clothing, I do not recommend sipping a scalding cuppa Starbucks. But if you’re cycling down the road with the wind in your hair, toting a warm beverage just might keep you cooler.

For tips on sunscreen, visit for all the news you need to know. But when the sun is a blazing inferno and the humidity is high, what you really need to do is stay in the shade. For most of the Western world, that means hiding under tents, trees and canvas-shaded cafe tables, or secluding ourselves in the AC. But in Taiwan, where the summer temps regularly simmer at 93 degrees and the humidity can be even higher, people who need to be out and about during daylight carry their shade with them; you will regularly see flocks of umbrellas moving down the sidewalks on cloudless days, and every restaurant has a storage rack by their entrance. If the radiation from the sun isn’t frying people, the skies are opening up in torrential downpours. My family always kept a collection of at least 10 umbrellas on hand.

Unfortunately, these days it is not just the heat that can get to us. If you live in RI, you’ve seen the warnings on the news: ozone alert! The air quality is so bad on these days that elderly people and those with health conditions are advised not to venture out at all, and to seek shelter at the nearest building equipped with AC if there is none at home. Ozone days are no joke. I can tell without turning on the news that it’s time to close my windows and filter the air. I wake up feeling sick to my stomach, feeling as if I am walking underwater, and a cloud of gnats seems to swarm in my head. Ozone is a toxic air contaminant. Research shows that during ozone alerts, there are more hospitalizations for respiratory conditions, along with an increase in mortality rates. Evidence suggests that even short-term exposure might aggravate pre-existing heart symptoms and cause a spike in blood pressure. Long-term exposure can cause permanent damage to your health.

So how do you know if you’re just plain hot, or if there is something more serious going on? Pay attention! If you develop a headache, dizziness or rapid heartbeat, it’s time to seek attention. If you, or someone you are with, experiences these symptoms or becomes disoriented, has hot, dry skin and seems sluggish or fatigued, call 911. And while you wait for help to arrive, get to a shady spot or AC, ASAP. Apply water to the skin and use a fan to help it evaporate. Every Girl Scout learns this stuff in basic training; you can too.

And during the dog days, don’t forget the dog! Pets need protection from the heat too.

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