Heat Stress Safety: How to Keep Your Body Safe in the Summer Heat
It’s a warm day, and the whole neighborhood that was cooped up inside all winter has suddenly come alive. The once cold, barren streets now have children playing on lawns, teens engaged in lawn games and parents doing outdoor chores. You get a faint, smoky scent of someone grilling with every warm breeze that passes over your skin (which, probably hasn’t seen the sun in months). It’s finally consistently nice out, and you can finally enjoy that back deck instead of looking out the window longingly at it like you did in the dead of winter.
With the magic of warm, inviting weather comes the inevitable danger of high temperatures on your body. The thing is, it only poses a threat to us because of how careless we are when the warm weather starts to settle in. The only reason a warm, sunny day can be deadly to us is because we’re so wrapped up in our warm weather activities that we neglect and ignore the bodily needs that accompany being in the heat. Our lack of sunscreen, water, breaks in the shade, and even our crappy diet are what makes the heat dangerous….not the heat itself.
Hot weather isn’t a safety hazard- our safety negligence in the sun is. So this summer, be more proactive about being safe in the sun and keeping your kids or coworkers safe in the sun as well. Scientific research (that we all fund with our tax dollars) has proven time and time again that we’re seeing a harmful trend of the Earth’s increasing temperatures. Whether you believe in climate change or not, you need to accommodate for the record-breaking high temperatures it’s been predicted (again, by scientific research) that we’re likely to have. Here’s how:
Yes, it is a very obvious tip. But then why does the average adult not drink enough water? Because we completely ignore our body’s request for fluids. Just because you aren’t thirsty, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t drink water. I’m not just giving you a half-hearted reminder about water- you actively need to help your brain remember to incorporate frequent water breaks into your outdoor activities.
Carry a water bottle everywhere, or have more than one to leave in places you frequently are. For instance, keep one at work on your desk. Keep a case of water in your car. Keep a pitcher filled up in your fridge. Buy a really cool one for your kids and encourage them to use it.
Here’s a trick I tried for a little while (and should try doing again)- have a glass of water every time you pass through the kitchen. Walk in to grab food? Have a glass of water, too. Go and get a beer? Drink a glass of water in the kitchen first. Feed your dog? Glass of water. I felt a noticeable difference when I opted to drink water every time I was near a source. Increase your sources, and take advantage of them. Over half a billion people on earth don’t have access to clean drinking water. If you’re reading this, you’re probably not one of those people. Be thankful of your privilege and exercise it.
Avoid certain foods
It goes without saying that we should avoid fried and salty food, but I personally don’t, so I’m using this as a reminder for myself as well. Fried foods and foods with high sodium can dehydrate your body and absorb your stored water. As does caffeine and alcohol. This is because it needs your body’s water to aid in the nutrient filtration process, and why (sorry, this’ll be kinda gross) your urine can range in different colors. The more yellow/orange your urine is, the more toxins are present. Best way to get rid of the toxins? WATER! So if you’re going to eat something fried or salty, or drink caffeine or alcohol you NEED to offset it’s dehydration effects on your body by drinking plenty of water. If you’re going to drink alcohol out in sun, you have to be especially careful because aside from the alcohol dehydrating your body, you’re also sweating, which is using your body’s water. You HAVE to offset those with water or you WILL end up in the hospital. Red Cross suggests eating small meals and eat more often. Opt for healthy, light, nourishing meals and feed your kids the same. They’ll want those sugary drinks and sugary frozen treats, but a WATERmelon or something that’ll help their little bodies is a better choice.
If you can’t go inside, lay down in the shade
If you’re working outside in the heat and there isn’t necessarily a place to find solace in air-conditioned heaven, lay down on the grass in the shade. Grass doesn’t necessarily retain heat, so it’ll feel nice against your hot body. Additionally, when you lie down with your hands above your head your airways are completely open so you can get max oxygen to your blood cells (which are probably moving pretty good if you’re outside doing work). Relax while laying down for a few minutes so your organs can get up with their oxygen supply, and to let your energy settle for a minute so your body can focus on cooling down. It’s a great time to drink water, too! Take these little breaks often, you’re not a “wimp”, “slacker”, etc. for taking a minute to chill out, and anyone who tries to tell you differently is irresponsible and is the real slacker. It’s a real pet peeve of mine when supervisors and managers think difficult and laborious job tasks are more important than the bodies doing them.
Be aware of those days where you might just straight up melt
You may hear the weather man use certain terms to describe days where the heat may get so high that it actually could be dangerous if you’re working in it for hours at a time. Red Cross breaks down these common terms to look for in summer months so you know when you’re going to get those days where it might just be really miserable to be outside, and therefore you should take EXTRA caution/precautions.
- Excessive Heat Watch – Conditions are favorable for an excessive heat event to meet or exceed local Excessive Heat Warning criteria in the next 24 to 72 hours.
- Heat Advisory – Heat Index values are forecasting to meet locally defined advisory criteria for 1 to 2 days (daytime highs= 100-105° Fahrenheit).
- Excessive Heat Warning – Heat Index values are forecasting to meet or exceed locally defined warning criteria for at least 2 days (daytime highs= 105-110° Fahrenheit).
Wear your sunscreen or sunblock
The sun is harsh on your skin and can be incredibly dangerous. It can cause a slight mutation of your skin cells which develops into skin cancer such as Melanoma, Basal Cell, and a few other forms of cancer caused by the sun that ultimately- you just really don’t want. Opt to wear sunscreen 50sph or higher or use sunblock. The difference between the two is that sunscreen will still allow the sun’s UV rays to come through dependent on the degree of SPF. Sunblock will completely protect your skin from the sun’s UV rays- which may be the better option if you spend a prolonged amount of time outdoors.
Look out for each other
It’s quite likely that your coworker, the neighbor kid, or someone you’re in contact with while being outside is NOT being responsible in the heat. While you might be taking all the precautions to take care of YOUR body, when someone you’re with keels over because they’ve been working furiously without drinking water, it’s YOU they’ll unknowingly need to rely on to get them immediate medical help. Encourage kids, coworkers, friends, neighbors, etc. to be safe while out in the heat, so that everyone can enjoy their summer activities without anything scary and harmful happening.
Alright, I get how difficult it is to absorb information when you’re reading a lot of it off a computer screen (average adult attention span is 8 seconds….do I still have ya?). So to help you out, I’ve put together a PDF of nice and neat little bullet points of information from Red Cross about how to stay safe in the heat this summer, just click here to download it. Post it on your fridge, keep it in your lunchbox, or go over it with your kids.
Bottom line, you HAVE to take care of and listen to your body ESPECIALLY in climates where neglecting to do so could pose a serious threat to your health. Your brain might be occupied by summer fun, your job tasks, etc. but you must train your brain to be more considerate of your body’s needs. So while I’ve given you some tips here that may or may not be redundant, I’m actually more so preaching about how important it is to just keep that body healthy in weather where it’s really easy to quickly become unhealthy. You want to live a nice, long, full life don’t ya? Well, it’d be hard to do that without your body keeping proper pace.
Click on a language below to download a heat safety checklist: