Health in the Heat

By Earl Whipple

I think of this time of year in the US as the epitome of summer in America.  People gather with friends and family, barbecue, go to the pool or the beach and share time together outside in the sun.  On the East Coast we had a beautiful holiday weekend over July 3rd and 4th, but immediately afterwards temperatures in Delaware started routinely breaking 100 degrees.

Rather than complain about staying indoors, I wanted to share some thoughts on staying healthy in extreme heat.  Heat is the number one weather-related killer in the United States.  And according to the Centers for Disease Control, the best defense against heat-related illness is prevention.1

Staying cool and making small changes in your fluid intake, activities, and clothing can help tremendously.1  Here are a few specific tips, which can be found on the CDC’s Extreme Heat website.

•    Drink more fluids (nonalcoholic)
•    Stay indoors and, if possible, stay in an air-conditioned place.
•    Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.
•    NEVER leave anyone or a pet in a closed, parked vehicle.
•    Check regularly on those at the greatest risk for heat illness—infants, young children, people with a mental illness, those who are physically ill, or obese. And of course, elderly people aged 65 or older – elderly people are more prone to heat stress than young people.
•    Limit your outdoor activity to morning and evening hours.
•    Protect yourself from the sun by wearing a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses and by putting on sunscreen with a minimum of SPF 15 or higher.
−    The Wall Street Journal Health Blog recently issued a post about sunscreen.  When protecting yourself in the heat, it’s just as important to remember to protect your skin from the sun.

It’s fairly easy to incorporate these tips into summer activities –and to improving your health.  In fact, a recent post from the New York Times’ Well Blog pointed me to this interesting article that suggests more exposure to plants and parks may actually improve your health.  So by all means, get outside and enjoy the season—just be smart about it.

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1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Emergency Preparedness and Response. Extreme Heat. Tips for Preventing Heat-Related Illness. Available at http://www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/extremeheat/heattips.asp. Accessed July 8, 2010.