20 Ways to beat the summer heat

Summer is here again! Everyone looks forward to holiday vacation, going camping, and family time. Yet as the mercury in the thermometer rises, many people start searching for ways to beat the heat. For most of us it is out of comfort but for too many Americans, excessive heat exposure is deadly. In fact, for the years 1999 to 2010, an average of 618 deaths occurred annually due directly to excessive heat exposure.

How the human body cools itself

Regardless of the temperature around you, the human body has a remarkable ability of keeping our internal temperature near 98.6 F.

As the temperature rises around us, or we become physically active, the hypothalamus in our brain sends a signal to the heart to start beating faster. At the same time, tiny blood vessels in the skin open, permitting more blood to reach the body surface where heat can be released.

If the body continues heating up, glands release sweat onto the skin where it cools the body as this water/electrolyte solution dries.

Things get really dangerous, however, if the humidity level around us is too high for sweat to evaporate or if we become too dehydrated to sweat. If this happens, our body temperature may climb to 106 F or higher within as little as 10-15 minutes and disabling or deadly heat stroke can occur.

Tips for staying cooler this summer:

  1. Exercise earlier in the morning to take advantage of the cool night air before the sun heats it to a boiling point.
  2. Wearing loose-fitting clothes that allow for circulation of air. And choose light colored clothes since they reflect more rays than do dark colors. And don't forget sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat.
  3. Wear cotton rather than get synthetic fabrics. Synthetic fabrics often trap the heat and sweat into your clothing while cotton is absorbent, dries quickly, and wicks the sweat away.
  4. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and drinks with a lot of sugar since they promote dehydration. As you become dehydrated your body is less able to perspire. Perspiration is the body's natural cooling mechanism.
  5. Drink lots of chilled water; at least 2-4 glasses (16-32 ounces) every hour -- especially before, during and after physical activity. Dehydration (when your body is losing more fluids than you're drinking) makes your body temperature rise and a lack of water can inhibit cooling perspiration. Don't wait until you are thirsty! Symptoms of dehydration include: dark colored urine, muscle cramping, decreased sweating and fatigue. Avoid very cold drinks, however, since they can cause stomach cramps.
  6. Keep water in a spray bottle in the fridge to spray on your face and neck. The face and the neck are two places where you can cool yourself quickly.
  7. Eat smaller meals with chilled fresh foods, avoid heavy meals, and try to spice up your diet with hot and spicy foods. Digestion requires energy which creates heat in your body. The tougher the digestion process, the more heat. Spicy foods aid in digestion and speed up your metabolism making them a summer delight.
  8. Fans are a summer time necessity -- though they lose their effectiveness when the temperature gets into the high 90s. Chill it down a notch more by putting a bowl of ice in front of the fan to ensure extra cold air.
  9. Take cool baths and showers regularly. There is not much that is more refreshing on a hot summer day than being submersed in cool water.
  10. Take a cold bottle of water to bed to reduce body heat between the sheets.
  11. Rest. The more active you are, the more heat your body generates.
  12. Try putting a wet bandana on your neck to bring some relief especially if the heat is giving you a headache.
  13. Fill ice cube trays with fruit and juice for tasty cooling treat that is nutritious and delicious.
  14. Jump into a swimming hole or pool, but don't forget to apply plenty of waterproof sunscreen (SPF 15 or higher), starting 30 minutes before you will be out in the sun. Reapply the sunscreen as recommended on the label.
  15. Stay in the shade under an umbrella, canopy, or tree to avoid the sun's most intense rays.
  16. Run through the sprinklers like when you were a kid -- or get into a water balloon fight. If you're afraid of what the neighbors may think, how about washing the car with an out-of-control garden hose!
  17. Head off to the library, mall, church or somewhere air conditioned. Even just a few hours a day of sitting in an air conditioned building can help your body to better regulate itself for the remainder of the day.
  18. Close the doors and windows in your house during the day and leave them open at night. This prevents the hot air from coming in and allows the chilled night air to naturally cool the house.
  19. Never leave children or pets in a car where the temperature inside can climb tremendously in a matter of minutes. And if you know of people who are homebound, use the "buddy system" -- check in on them at least twice a day for signs of heat exhaustion.
  20. Since an amazing 1/4 of our sweat glands are in our feet, jump into some sandals, walk around in your socks or go barefooted. Avoid shoes that trap in heat and sweat.
cheap ways to stay cool

Care to share your favorite ways of beating the summer heat? Please click the "Add new comment link" below.

Note: Children under age 4, overweight, elderly and people with physical or mental illness need to take extra precautions when the temperature rises. They are at greater risk of suffering heat-related illness, brain or organ damage, or even death.

Sources (Accessed May 24, 2012)

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Join in our discussions:
Showing comment(s)
May 27, 2013
I can think of lots more ways. Just do everything you can to keep your house cooler. Don't use the oven or toaster oven. Don't boil pasta, which fills the kitchen with hot steam. Run the bathroom fan when showering to remove humidity from the house. Don't run the dishwasher in the middle of the afternoon. Put sun-blocking shades on the OUTSIDE of windows to keep heat from getting inside the windows. Do everything possible to prevent generating heat or humidity in the house. Also, spend times in the lower levels of the home since cool air settles.
Frank at Alabama Health
May 27, 2013
Thanks for your ideas, Manny. Your suggestions are certainly helpful. Along that same line, we installed a ridge-vent along the entire peak of our roof the last time our house was reshingled. It not only helps heat to escape from the attic, it has seemed to keep the whole house cooler. There are even more home-cooling tips available at http://www.nrel.gov/docs/legosti/old/15771.pdf
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