About 2 years ago I spent 12 hours a day for 3 days standing in the sun outside of Scottsdale, Arizona in August. The temperature was 116° F. Some people say it’s a dry heat. They’re right. Like an oven. I was working with a film crew to shoot a golf App. The shoot went well. As for me, I thought I was gonna die. That was when I learned a lot about staying cool in the heat. Fortunately I was surrounded by many experts and I soon followed their advice and did everything they did. Religiously. Here’s what they taught me:
If you’re heading into a situation where you’re going to be hot, exposed to the sun and probably sweating a lot – be prepared and pre-hydrate. This means drinking water or thirst quenching drinks “before” you hit the heat.
2. Dress for the whole day (white or light colored clothes)
Mornings are typically cool. Even in the desert. Don’t be fooled. Think ahead and either wear layers or be sure you have an undergarment you’re willing to be seen in public wearing. Also, keep an eye on your clothing color choices. Darker colors absorb heat from the sun, lighter colors reflect. I worked in Singapore for a few months and quickly assembled a wardrobe of white clothing. Singapore is on the equator. It’s another place where you learn a few lessons about dealing with the heat.
3. Start early
Construction workers, roofers, football coaches, backpackers. They all understand the importance of starting early in the day. The mornings are cooler and many times work or football practice will simply stop during the hot, mid-afternoon peak. Evening brings some relief and work will often begin again as the day cools down.
4. Work the shade
My brother is a professional roofer. We were putting a new roof on our cabin in Michigan one summer and the temperatures were in the 90’s with high humidity. We started early but had to keep working to get the job done in time. My brother planned it well and we always saved our afternoon work for the shaded areas of the roof and yard.
5. Eat smart
The key is to eat light. A big meal will cause your body to work harder to metabolize the food and can make you both sluggish and a bit hot. The general rule is to avoid foods high in protein. If you’re active outdoors in high-heat stick with cold salads and sandwiches. Cold fruit and vegetables help as well.
6. Drink smarter
Cold water is a good place to start. Make sure you stock up on the ice in your cooler. If the ice melts before the day is done, try freezing a water bottle or two before you load up. By late afternoon they’ll be thawed enough to drink. Remember the electrolytes as well. Bring along some thirst quenching drinks like Gatorade or Powerade to replenish electrolytes in your system.
Most importantly, don’t wait until you’re thirsty to take a drink. Thirst is an early sign of dehydration. Continually drink fluids throughout the day and avoid alcohol. It dehydrates you quickly.
7. Chill out
Frequently finding shade is a good idea, but sometimes you need to do more. This is especially true if you’re starting to show some of the symptoms of heat-stroke. In Arizona we soaked white dish towels in ice water and literally draped them over our heads and behind our necks like Lawrence of Arabia. Another way to cool down quickly is to immerse your hands past the wrists in ice water. The blood circulating through the veins and arteries in your wrist will slowly deliver a cooler temperature to the rest of your body. If this doesn’t relieve the symptoms get inside to an air-conditioned area or consider the emergency room.
8. Stay hydrated
Don’t get cocky, especially if you’re doing strenuous work or exercise in the heat. I worked highway construction in college. I was on an asphalt crew. The temperatures surrounding us from the hot asphalt got as high as 130° F. at times. The road crews drank water constantly. They all knew something I learned very quickly. Even mild dehydration puts a tremendous burden on your body and over time could lead to heat stroke, brain-damage, a heart-attack or kidney failure. It’s important to stay hydrated after your day is done as well. You’re in recovery mode to some degree and a cool shower might also be a good idea. Of course you probably know that already.
9. Know the signs
There are specific symptoms of dehydration and heat stroke you should know. Thirst is one of them, but if you’ve stopped sweating, have a headache or eye-strain, or a flushed appearance you may be in serious trouble. Get out of the heat immediately. If you feel dizzy or disoriented have someone get you to a hospital or convenient care center. You might need an IV and they’ll probably pack you in some cold towels. Hopefully you never have to endure this, but it happened to a friend of mine once and it was a bit disconcerting to watch. He was fine and he learned his lesson.
10. Spread the word and the water
Keep an eye on family and friends especially if they show any signs of dehydration or worse. The easiest way to encourage someone to drink fluids is to hand them a cold bottle of water or a bottled thirst-quencher. 9 times out of 10 they’ll simply take it and drink it and say, “Thank you.” They also may laugh at that wet towel you have on your head, but in a few hours they’ll probably be asking you if you have an extra one.
It’s not hard to stay cool in the high, summer heat. Most of it is common sense, but for some reason we often forget. Hopefully you won’t have to endure some of the hard lessons that I learned over the years. Stay cool out there.