Can't Stand The Heat? How To Actually Stay Cool (Besides Drinking Water)

It’s easy to forget that extreme bouts of heat can have dire consequences even in healthy people, not just those who have trouble regulating body temperature — like the very young, the elderly, outdoor workers and people suffering from conditions such as obesity, diabetes or cardiovascular problems.

In other words, we’re all vulnerable no matter what condition we’re in — so be kind to 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 six timely tips to help you cope:

1. Make your home a cool cocoon.

  • Keep the house cool with an energy-efficient air conditioner, and reduce heat gain with window coverings like blinds, shades and curtains. Keep window coverings closed during the day and remember to clean A/C filters weekly to prevent dust and dirt build-up from blocking cool airflow.
  • Keep the oven off during the day. Do roasting or baking late in the evening, as infrequently as possible.
  • Dishwashers can generate a tremendous amount of heat, so wait until it’s truly full before running it, and run it at night or as little as possible during the summer months
  • If the power goes out or your air conditioner dies in the middle of a heat wave, cool off with frequent showers or keep a tub full of cool water to use as a temporary dunking tank. Bunk in with an air-conditioned friend, or head to an air-conditioned location like a library, theater or cooling station. As little as two hours spent in an air-conditioned location can reduce the risk of dangerous heat-related illness.
  • Remember: Fans don’t cool the air. They move hot air around, 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 a metal bowl or large waterproof container to catch the water.

2. Move with care — indoors and out.

During heat waves, concrete and asphalt hold the heat by day, then release it at night, making the heat feel especially relentless. Air quality tends to plummet as well, so just because the sun’s set that doesn’t mean it’s a great time to go for a 5k run in the park. Even if you're 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 the A/C at home or sign up for a short-term summer membership at a local gym to maintain your routine until the more comfortable temps of autumn arrive. If you absolutely must go for a run, mow the lawn or tend the garden, do so in the hours just before and after dawn when the air is at its coolest.

3. Chill your mind and body, literally, with "cooling breaths."

To cool down anytime, anywhere, hands-free, try my favorite “cooling breath” technique. Also known as the Sheetali Pranayama, this simple, centering, cooling exercise involves curling your tongue, breathing in through the mouth, and slowly exhaling. Here are detailed instructions to chill your body and mind on demand.

4. Cool your belly with smaller, lighter meals.

Ever notice how “comfort foods” have considerably less appeal in the summer? Think of it as your body’s way of telling you to eat less of the heavy stuff. 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. Instead, lean on salads, fresh fruit and make-ahead foods that don’t require as much digestive heavy lifting.

To get through the summer without over-taxing your belly, opt for breakfast smoothies, refreshing salads and green drinks at lunch and veggie-rich dinners with small servings of lean protein.

5. Chew on cooling foods.

Help hydrate your body not only by drinking liquids but also by eating them, in the form of water and nutrient-dense veggies and fruits. Among the high-water-content veggies to include in your summertime diet: cucumber, leafy greens, tomatoes, squash and celery.

Topping the refreshing list in the fruit category are water-rich treats like watermelon, honeydew melon, strawberries, apples, and grapefruit.

6. Drink the drinks that really hydrate.

What do most people reach for when temperatures soar? Beer, specialty cocktails, coffee, soda, iced tea and sports drinks — all fairly lousy choices because they tend to encourage more frequent urination and in doing so, hydrate you less well or even dehydrate you at a time when that’s the last thing your body needs.

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, water flavored with lemon and cucumber slices, coconut water, green drinks, decaf iced tea, herbal tea or my favorite, roobios tea.

Stay away from commercial sugar-and-chemical-laden commercial sports drinks. Instead, brew up your own healthy version and enjoy.

For more tips on how to stay hydrated throughout the summer and beyond, check out my post 5 Reasons Why Hydration Is Essential To Health.

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