Stay Cool Without Air Conditioning

August 1, 2011

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No sweat!

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.

Photo credit: NASA. Some rights reserved.


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.

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Comments

CHILL OUT!

By Crone Grimalkin

Sally, I agree with Andy Fox when he said you need to chill out! I'm WELL past 20 & MAYBE I don't do cannonballs or swing on a rope swing much any more (but then again maybe I do), but I still love swimming in a nice clean river or creek. It's not only relaxing & cooling but also takes me back to a much different time when both I & the world were younger. My own personal experience has also taught me that living in a huge city isn't very conducive to creek/river swimming & not everyone is as fortunate as I am to live in a rural state with clean water for swimming or boating. Also, even though I own an A/C unit, I rarely use it unless the temps get into the 90s & then it's to help remove the humidity more than anything else. And, lastly, my husband was a Texan & they are definitely "meat & potatoes" type of guys there! He at first questioned the switch to "salad night" atleast once or twice a week during Summer heat but he adjusted & it didn't kill either of us. In fact, it's actually part of a healthy lifestyle & helps start the process of shedding extra unnecessary pounds. You should atleast try some of the article's suggestions...after all, what have you got to lose except having to suffer less & perhaps feeling more energized like you perhaps used to when younger & thinner. Otherwise, all I can say is Heaven help you & yours if the power grid ever does go down in your neighborhood! I for one practice most of the steps outlined in the article simply because I HATE handing my hard earned money over to the greedy, overpriced utility company!!

on A/C

By Ann Wagner

I really learned a lot here. As I child in New Jersey, no one really had air conditioning and didn't notice much. It's good to have A/C now but it is also good to know how to deal without it if you have a power outage or some problem. Very interesting. Thank you.

Do whatever it takes to get some A/C

By Sally Barry

Socks filled with cold rice; capering about in the heat; taking a dip in a pool or lake; eating salads; putting ice cubes on your head; DUH! If you aren't 20 years old, if you are perishing from the heat year after year after year, all that stupid stuff is putting a bandaid on a gaping wound. You can buy a $99 air conditioner at your local grocery store. Buy one. I'm not going downtown to swim at the Y; I'm not going to do a cannonball into the ol' swimming hole like Huck Finn; I'm not going to be "building up my heat tolerance"; I'm not going to start trying to feed my meat n' taters family nice leafy salads; this is all nigh-useless blather, and is OK if you're young, thin, and full of the joys o' summer living. Get an air conditioner. Just in one room. It will not only make your life worth living, it will save your life.

A/C

By JoAnn7

I live in Mississippi , where we lose power for weeks at a time when Hurricans hit..So our A/C's dont run..Or maybe run for a while with a generator..If you can find the gas to run it.so all of these Ideas are GREAT!! Anything, for the Older People and very Young to stay cool may save their lives. We cant always run our a/c's.

Chill Out

By Andy Fox

Boy, Sally,  did your mama ever teach you the expression, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say it." I'm not young or thin and I follow this advice. Unless you're sick, A/C isn't that good for you. And she's not saying don't use A/C. If you have a blackout, it's good to know how to cool your body down. And check out the photo of this lady. No offense, but she's sure not 20 either. And just blogging some good tips--take em or leave em. But don't whine about it.

NO A/C!

By MrsMutton

Loved all these suggestions, most of which we already practice in this house. One question: How are you able to get around by bike? I live in Rochester, NH, and it's as much as your life is worth to get on the road on a bicycle!

Getting around by bike

By Margaret Boyles

You're so right! I could write a book about my adventures as a bike commuter. The road rage of both morning and afternoon car commuters can be life-threatening.
 
What I do:

  • Dress in ridiculously vibrant clothing (think neon yellow, green, or orange).
  • Try to time my rides so I'm riding just ahead of or just after the main herd of car-commuter traffic.
  • Follow the rules of the road to the letter. It's dangerous to anger drivers. This is especially important when riding with a partner or group. Stay in single file.
  • Never try to out-pedal a car/truck to a left-hand turn. I'd sooner get off and walk across a busy road.
  • Take a side road whenever possible, even when it means adding a few miles to the ride.

Bike with traffic only when you have enough miles on your legs to ride with strength and confidence.

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