To say this summer has been “hot” is a huge understatement. From record-setting temps to weeks upon weeks of weather that’s too hot to be out in let alone work out in, it has truly been the dog days of summer. While we’ve shared lots of ways for you to stay cool in the summer heat, do you really know the reasons why heat is so hard on the human body and how it affects darn near every part of us? Read on for a primer on how this heat wave is affecting our bodies!
Heat and Your Skin
When it’s hot out, your body’s skin works to keep you cool. The skin’s first job when hot is circulating blood to the skin, which increases your skin temperature and allows your body to give off some heat. Next is sweating. Sweating helps you cool off, but when the humidity levels are high and your sweat can’t evaporate, it doesn’t do a whole lot of good and can result in heat rash. Additionally, the extra heat can prompt us to wear less clothing, thereby increasing our risk of sunburn.
What to Do About It: Wear loose-fitting clothing, apply sunscreen to all exposed areas and if you’re in a humid climate, try to be near a fan to help your body evaporate that sweat!
Heat and Your Hair
Did you know that the sun can actually damage your hair just like it does your skin? Through a process called oxidation, the sun can damage your hair follicles (a tell-tale sign are those lighter, blonde highlights many get during the summer) and generally make your hair frizzy, dry and brittle.
What to Do About It: The first line of defense when it comes to the heat and your hair is wearing a hat or a bandana. Protect your hair from the sun’s rays, and you’ll greatly reduce damage. If you can’t do that, invest in some styling products that contain SPF and be sure to put a layer of conditioner on your hair every day to help it keep its moisture.
Heat and Hydration
Staying hydrated in the summer is tough. Every day we lose water in our body through normal body functions. But when it’s extra hot and we’re sweating, it’s harder to keep up with how much water we’re losing. When we aren’t replacing fluids lost properly, we can become dehydrated and low in essential electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, calcium bicarbonate and phosphate. Additionally, dehydration can lowers your body’s energy levels. Because our blood is made up of mostly water, when you’re dehydrated, the volume of your blood decreases, lowering amounts of oxygen and nutrients that reach your tissues. This can leave you feeling tired and can slow your metabolism down a bit.
What to Do About It: Drink lots of water regularly throughout the day, and boost your hydration with a sports drink when you’re exercising outdoors or are outside sweating for long periods of time.
Heat and Your Diet
While your calorie needs don’t change much when it’s really hot out, the heat can make you feel less hungry. With dehydration being a risk factor of the heat though — and because we get much of our water from our food — it’s important to eat!
What to Do About It: If you’re not hungry, try eating mini meals that are high in water frequently during the day. Nosh on water-rich citrus fruits as snacks and try pureed soups for meals. Also, try to eat foods that are high in potassium and sodium to help with hydration, and consider taking a multivitamin to make sure you’re getting all of your vitamins and minerals!
Heat and Your Fitness
When the temperatures are high, your body has to work harder to cool itself off, which automatically raises your heart rate. So when you go to work out when it’s hot, your heart has to work twice as hard.
What to Do About It: Slow down and expect less of yourself. When working out in the heat, it’s all about listening to your body and decreasing your intensity. Instead of a run, go for a walk or, better yet, workout indoors!
Be safe and stay cool out there!
Image credit D Sharon Pruitt
August 9th, 2011