What can you do to stay cool in hot weather? Here are tips for keeping your body cool, especially if you don’t have air conditioning or the power goes out!
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. Of course, 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 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:
Immediate Relief from the Heat
- Stay well-hydrated. Sip cold water often throughout the day. Sweating is your body’s air conditioner.
- Eat smaller meals and eat more often in hot weather to reduce the heat produced by metabolic activity within your body.
- Avoid alcohol on hot days.
- Cut back on caffeine which raises your body temperature. Coffee, chocolate, tea, sodas, sports drinks, and many nonprescription drugs have caffeine.
- 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, loose-fitting clothing. Athletic under- and outerwear designed to wick sweat away from the body will help you feel more comfortable in the heat.
- Put a couple of ice cubes in a bandana 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.
- Wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses when you’re outside, especially in direct sun. And cover any exposed skin with sunscreen as a sunburn will truly heat your body up. Put on SPF 30 or higher about 30 minutes before you go outside. If you stay outdoors, you’ll need to reapply it throughout the day.
- 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.Or simply use a wet, cold towel on those pulse points.
- If you’re really hot, you could use an ice pack. Just be sure to cover your skin with a towel to protect it, and only do it for 20 minutes at a time.
- A bath or even a simple sponging off with cold water will work, too. It should help cool your body. Even warm water (not hot water) works because you cool down as the water evaporates. Don’t steam up your bathroom!
- Your bedsheets should be cotton or linen in hot weather, not a blend. Look for a “thread count” of 200 to 400. More than that means the fabric won’t breathe as well and trap heat.
- You could even “chill” your sheets to help you get to sleep by sticking them in the freezer or fridge. Use a resealable plastic bag so they don’t touch food, moisture, or ice.
- Fill a “hot water bottle” with water and put it in the freezer. You may need to wrap it in a towel to protect your skin before you use it. You could also freeze buckwheat packs.
- Or, 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.
- Change beds. You could even look for a cooler room that’s lower down in the house or that has more windows.
- Sleep alone. Two bodies generate more heat. You may miss your partner on a hot night but you won’t be cranky in the morning!
Move the Air
- Air conditioning is your best bet if you have it. When you feel hot, simply turn the temperature down.
- If that’s not an option, you can get the air moving with a fan or two or three. Create a path for the air through open windows.
- 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 or oven roasting pan with chunks of ice cubes 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.)
- Do not exercise in hot weather. If you must, take it very easy to get used to the hot weather over several days to two weeks.
- Work out in the cooler hours of early evening or early morning, or take it indoors.
- Drink a couple of cups of water a few hours before you head out for exercise. Bring a water bottle with you and drink about 10 big gulps from your water bottle every 15 minutes or so.
- If you feel faint, lie down and raise your legs above your head. Try to get to a cool area and drink fluids as soon as possible.
Staying Cool for the Long Term
- Try to drop excess body fat. 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 to 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°).
Extreme heat can kill. Know the locations of emergency cooling centers nearby. Contact your state or local government for information. Elderly, disabled, and obese people, infants, and those with serious health conditions are at special risk for heat-related health emergencies.