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It’s a lovely summer day in Death Valley National Park. As you hike across a glittering white salt flat, you start to feel woozy, sweating more than normal. Your water ran out a couple miles back, but you know you’ll get to the car soon. Your head is pounding and you can’t remember any health tips.
A passing visitor offers you some water, and you reluctantly accept it, irritated at the man’s cheerful demeanor. Within minutes, you’re feeling clear-headed and cool again. This situation can happen to anyone. Even if you’re just doing yard work on a sunny day, it’s important to be aware of the symptoms of heat-related illness. Always remember these seven health tips during hot weather.
Water is your greatest ally and arguably the best health tip there is. Start hydrating before you exercise outdoors, and drink 24-32 ounces (roughly one liter) of water per hour that you work outside in the heat.
It’s best to sip water slowly throughout the day rather than trying to drink a lot of it at once. Never drink more than 48 ounces (1.4 liters) per hour, as this can dangerously decrease the amount of salt in your bloodstream, and never drink alcohol while exercising.
You can also pour water on yourself while exercising to cool down. After exercising, continue drinking water to ensure you’re properly hydrated. Remembering to drink plenty of water is an important health tip during hot weather.
When you sweat, you lose electrolytes, which are composed of salt and other minerals. They perform essential functions in your body. Sports drinks can help replenish them, but you also get electrolytes from food. It’s okay to only drink plain water throughout the day as long as you also eat regular meals.
If you want to drink something with added electrolytes, like a sports drink, pay close attention to the other ingredients in the beverage. These types of drinks often have massive amounts of sugar and caffeine, which can cause your blood sugar and heart rate to spike.
Alternatively, you can make your own cheap, healthy electrolyte drink by combining two tablespoons of sugar, three-fourths of a teaspoon of salt and one quart of water. Add lemon or lime for flavor if you like, or mix in some sugar-free flavoring.
There’s a reason so many cultures incorporate a siesta, or afternoon nap, into their schedule. Unless you’re obligated to work outside in the heat of the day, stay indoors when it’s very hot. The hottest part of the day is between 12:00 to 4:00 p.m.
Walk the dog, do your gardening or mow the lawn in the morning or evening. Stick to shaded areas if you must go outside while the sun is overhead.
If you work outside in the heat, take frequent breaks indoors or in the shade. During your breaks, you can sip water, splash cool water on yourself or lie down for a few minutes to rest. Try to take these rest periods frequently, even before you think you need one. It’s better to pause for a few minutes than to overexert yourself.
If you need to drive somewhere, keep the air conditioner running in the vehicle. This is especially important for people with young children or pets, since caregivers sometimes leave them in a hot car while running errands.
This practice is dangerous. Even a quick trip inside can be deadly for kids or animals left in a hot car, so always leave the air conditioner on. Or, better yet, bring everyone inside when running errands.
Another one of the important health tips during hot weather is to wear the proper clothing. Wear a hat or bandana, sunglasses and sunblock outside. Choose a shirt with long, thin, loose sleeves and wear pants made of breathable fabric to protect your skin from UV exposure.
You can even wear sun gloves to shield your hands. Since sunblock wears off your hands quickly as you wash them, do yard work or go fishing, for example, a lightweight pair of gloves keeps them from getting sunburned.
Have you heard of cooling vests? You can wear them under or over your clothes, depending on which type of vest you get, to keep you feeling cool throughout the day. They operate via evaporative cooling, cold gel packs or water circulation, and they’re an excellent idea for anyone who has to work in hot conditions.
There are also cooling bandanas and hats which you activate by soaking in water. Consider buying some specialized clothing like this if you frequently go out in the heat.
Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are both caused by exposure to high temperatures, especially if you’re dehydrated or performing strenuous physical activities. They can happen to anyone, but children, pregnant women and older adults are especially prone to heat-related illness.
Heat exhaustion is less severe than heat stroke, but it still requires prompt attention. Symptoms include heavy sweating, a headache, nausea, dizziness, thirst, irritability, weakness, urinating less than expected and having dark urine. You can usually treat this yourself, but call for help if you need it.
If you start feeling sick, don’t try to push through it. To treat heat exhaustion, get to shade and cool off immediately by sipping water. Drink slowly so you don’t throw up.
Pour water on yourself. Remove any excess clothing like socks or a jacket. If you’re at home, take a cold bath to rapidly cool your body down.
If untreated, heat exhaustion may lead to heat stroke. This is a medical emergency, and you should call for an ambulance as soon as possible. Symptoms include hot, dry skin that may be red all over, fainting, sometimes profuse sweating, confusion, coma, high fever, seizures, rapid heartbeat and a staggering gait.
While waiting for emergency services to arrive, begin treating heat stroke the same as you would treat heat exhaustion: get into a cold bath and start sipping water.
It’s good to remember these health tips during hot weather, especially if you live in an area that doesn’t get hot very often. Keep an eye on yourself and your loved ones, making sure to drink plenty of water, stay indoors during the hottest part of the day if you can, wear cool clothing and watch for signs of heat-related illness. Even if it’s hot out, you can still safely enjoy your summer.