Actually, we should sweat in the heat. Sweating is part of the complex system our bodies have evolved to dissipate heat. Sweat cools the body as it evaporates from the skin.
I’ve never lived or worked in an air-conditioned space. Here in New Hampshire, most of us can get along with fans, cold drinks, and outdoor swimming. But the record-breaking heat and high humidity this summer has made the generally dreaded weekly shopping trip to the air-conditioned supermarket almost pleasurable.
Even folks who generally live and work in air-conditioned surroundings sometimes experience power outages, rolling blackouts, or brownouts that knock out cooling systems during the hottest days of summer.
Below, a few tips for staying cool(er) if you don’t have air conditioning:
For the long term
- Try to drop excess bodyfat. Fat insulates your body and prevents heat escape.
- Get fit and stay fit year round. Fit bodies adapt better to extremes of both heat and cold.
- Train for the heat! If you acclimate gradually to the heat by starting to exercise outdoors when the weather begins heating up in spring, you’ll train your body to adapt better to the hotter spells to come, and you’ll feel more comfortable when they do. Start when the warm weather begins by exercising outdoors for 15-20 minutes at low intensity. Gradually increase the length and intensity of exercise as the weather gets hotter. No matter how fit you become, don’t exercise outside in extreme heat--above 90°. Also, save your most intense workouts for the cooler hours of early evening or early morning, or take them indoors.
For immediate relief
- Eat smaller meals and eat more often in hot weather to reduce the heat produced by metabolic activity within your body.
- Stay well-hydrated. Sip cold water often throughout the day.
- Indulge in spicy food. If you can handle it, dressing up your summer meals with jalapenos, curries, and wasabi will induce sweating, particularly on your face and neck, and you’ll feel cooler.
- Close shades and curtains during the day to prevent the inside of the house and its furnishings from absorbing solar heat.
- Open (screened) windows at night to allow cross-ventilation throughout the house with cooler nighttime temperatures.
- Don’t use the oven. Grill in the shade or indulge in cool, main-dish salads. Turn the lights off, too.
- Wear light-colored, lightweight clothing. Athletic under- and outerwear designed to wick sweat away from the body will help you feel more comfortable in the heat.
- Sit in front of a fan (invest in a battery-powered or solar for power outages). Keep a spray bottle of cool water handy to mist your face and neck from time to time.
- For even greater cooling effect from a fan, fill a metal bowl with chunks of ice and put it between you and the fan. (Note: Fans can’t keep you from overheating during true heat emergencies. Please consult the CDC guide to extreme heat.)
- If you can’t take a swim in a local pool or pond (or even if you can), sit in a tub of cool water. Even soaking your feet in ice water helps.
- Run the undersides of your wrists under cold running water from the tap or a hose, or wrap your wrists in body-conforming athletic cold wraps. Or freeze used tea bags and hold them against the insides of your wrists and at your temples.
- Put a couple of ice cubes in a bandanna and tie it to your head under a wide-brimmed hat or around your neck.
- Place a wet towel around your neck and/or down your back. Alternatively soak your shirt in cold water, wring it out, and wear it.
- Freeze a couple of old socks filled with rice or small beans and place them at the foot of your bed between the sheets to cool you to sleep.
Extreme heat can kill. Learn about the risks to you and your loved ones,
and know the locations of emergency cooling centers nearby. Elderly, disabled, and obese people, infants, and those with serious health conditions are at special risk for heat-related health emergencies.
Margaret Boyles lives in a wood-heated house in central New Hampshire. She grows vegetables, eats weeds, keeps chickens, swims in a backyard pond in summer, snowshoes in the surrounding woods in winter, and commutes by bike whenever possible.