As summer inches closer and the temperature starts to rise, many people will take the sunshine and warm weather as an excuse to get outside. While the outdoors are generally good for our fitness and overall health, heat and humidity can become a nuisance and in some cases, can be dangerous.
Despite the warm-weather risks and the occasionally oppressive heat, there are ample opportunities to enjoy the summer. Here are a few great ways to beat the heat.
In the height of summer an ice cold shower is one of the best ways to beat the heat. The frigid water effectively brings down your body temperature, removes sweat and when you leave shower water on your skin afterward, it could help keep you chilly through evaporative cooling. On top of those benefits, cold showers are good for your health in ways that have nothing to do with heat.
The old phrase, “ignorance is bliss” may ring true when it comes to feeling cool in spite of the heat. According to a study published in European Journal of Applied Physiology, elite cyclists performed better when they thought it was cooler, despite the actual temperature. The cyclists each went through three tests, one trial when the room temperature was 71.2 degrees (control trial), the other when the room was 88.5 degrees and the third—a deception trial—where the room was actually 88.8 degrees, but the display in the room (which the cyclists could see) said it was 78.8 degrees. At the end of the experiment, the athletes performed best during the deception trial, even beating the distance total and power output of the control trial by a small margin. So, the moral of the story is that you should keep your eyes off the thermometer and think cool thoughts.
A key tactic for cooling down lies in knowing where to put the ice pack. You might know that the back of the neck and the inside of your wrists are great spots to put a cold compress, but don’t forget about the inside of your elbows, behind your kneecaps, inner thighs and the tops of your feet. If you can, dipping your feet in ice cold water works wonders.
Clothing choice is incredibly important to staying cool and we don’t just mean any pair of shorts and a t-shirt. The best option for hot weather is a loose-fitting, light-colored outfit made of material that doesn’t weigh much. Dark, tight clothing traps heat and moisture, which is not only uncomfortable, but can also be dangerous.
Like hot weather, rigorous exercise raises the body’s temperature, so those who exercise regularly will be familiar with the rising temperature and better able to handle it. Be wary of exercising in the heat, though, especially if you’re just starting a fitness routine. Try to exercise in the early morning, later in the evening or inside an air conditioned gym instead.
It’s no secret that dehydration is a big issue in the summer and when you’re dehydrated, not only does the heat feel even more extreme, but you also run an increased risk of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Learn about how much water you should be drinking and then stay hydrated with cold water and other cool liquids like smoothies.
Just as it’s important to stay hydrated, it’s crucial to add electrolytes, which are primarily responsible for maintaining a balance of fluid in your body. Those spending a lot of time outside in the summer (especially athletes) are at risk for drinking too much water, which then throws off sodium levels and creates a big problem called Hyponatremia. Without enough sodium to regulate fluid levels, the excess water seeps into the cells and causes swelling. When that swelling gets to your brain you need to seek immediate medical help, so be sure to maintain a good balance with electrolytes.
It sounds obvious that you would want to cool off in the shade, but sitting beneath a tree has cooling benefits you might not know about. Plants extract moisture from the soil and then release it out into the atmosphere, so green areas are likely your best bet when it comes to a cool outdoor area.
You might embrace the outdoors no matter how hot, but remember to take regular rests. If you’re starting to feel too hot or drained of energy, get to a cool spot and chill out for a while. It takes some time for our body temperature to come down, so wait until you’re breathing normally, your heart rate has come back down and then take a few more minutes to be safe. Generally you should be resting for at least 15 minutes to take some of the strain off your body.
Venturing out of your house might be the last thing you want to do in extreme heat, but public spaces offer a few cooling benefits. Head to an air conditioned café, library or movie theater and enjoy the chilly atmosphere.