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A dozen ways to beat the heat this summer

By Leigh Erin Connealy, M.D.
On July 22, 2012

  • A good way to stay hydrated and nourished is eating water rich fruits, vegetables.

It's that time of year again - time to talk about weather-related health complications, like heat exhaustion and heatstroke. One look at the weather map shows that most of the country is baking, with heat records being shattered far and wide.
 While it's nice to be warm, triple-digit heat is an entirely different beast that can sicken and even kill within hours. This is why I urge you to protect yourself from heat-related illness, which can happen quickly without much warning. It's always easier to prevent a health condition than to deal with it after it occurs.
 I want to be very clear about one thing: Thirst is at the top of the list. Do not wait to become thirsty before drinking water! If you're feeling thirsty, you are already dehydrated. That is not a good thing, even if the weather is cool.
Distract yourself: When my children were young and we were going to travel, I would fill carry-on bags with puzzles, books, games, and little craft projects to take their minds off the fact that we were not there yet. It was a very effective technique and one that I've found works for other situations, including heat waves and other bad-weather events.
Check the forecast: Weekly weather forecasting can help you prepare for heat waves, and be sure to check the humidity, too. High humidity - above 60 percent - can make even moderately warm temperatures harder to handle. Trust me, I'm from Texas and know a thing or two about humidity.
In addition, remember that sweat is how your body cools off, but in a humid climate, sweat doesn't evaporate quickly. So take it easy on humid days, even if the temperature isn't in triple digits.
Be an early bird or night owl: To avoid peak heat, run errands, clean house, and exercise early or late in the day. If you must cook something  requiring stovetop boiling or using the oven, try doing it at night or early in the morning when your house is likely to be cooler.
Cool It: If you don't have air conditioning, take a few hours off during the worst heat of the day to visit a local air-conditioned mall, movie theatre, or library. Getting out of the heat for even a few hours will help stop the ongoing damage to your body caused by constant high temperatures.
Get fancy: Buy a small personal battery-operated fan and extra batteries. If you're in a single-family dwelling, consider buying a generator in case of a power failure.
Dress for success: Wear loose, breathable clothing, such as cotton fabric. Tight clothes and synthetic fabrics can trap heat next to your skin and make it difficult for your body to cool itself.
Treat your feet: Use a bucket or dishpan for cooling footbaths. You may be surprised at how refreshing it is to soak your feet for 20 minutes or so in cool water. You can also wrap your feet in cold, damp towels for a similar effect.
Fill the freezer: Have on hand a few bags of ice to pack in plastic bags or towels to help cool off. You can even set up a do-it-yourself cooling station with a bucket or bowl of ice and a fan behind it to blow the cold air in your direction.
Get misty: Buy a small spray bottle, fill it with water, and use it to mist yourself. As water evaporates, it cools the skin. Misting is a good way to keep dogs cool, too.
Find a filter: Purchase a high-quality water filter to reduce the amount of water you're drinking from plastic containers. If plastic overheats, it leaches chemicals and toxins into the water. And if there's one thing none of us needs, it's more chemicals and toxins.
Get ahead of heat waves: Establish a game plan for the hottest days and in the event of a power failure, especially if you do not have air conditioning or windows that open. Contact local agencies such as the Red Cross or area hospitals to find local cooling stations as well as available transportation.
Pick up some produce: Fruits and vegetables contain 75 to 95 percent water, so having a smoothie and fruit for breakfast and a big salad for lunch or dinner are good ways to stay hydrated and nourish your body at the same time. 

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