Health & Safety

July 19, 2013

Handling the heat, tips for health and home

For the past several weeks, we have focused primarily on heat-related articles, and given that we that we are in the middle of our southern California summer, it seems appropriate that we continue along those lines of thinking. Let’s explore some things you might consider on a personal level in order to cope with the continuous thermal burden now blanketing our area.

• Take some dry measures. Give the clothes dryer a break. Hang a clothesline and let your towels and sheets flap in the breeze. Admittedly, this may not be feasible in some locations; however, laundry will have a nice natural scent, not to mention the cost savings of not using the dryer.

• Make a “cold compress.” Fill a cotton sock with rice, tie the sock with twine, and freeze it for two hours before bedtime. Then slide it between the sheets. Rice retains cold for a long period because it’s dense and starchy. This is just one of those nice to know and cool to try things, but it can certainly have a calming effect on your body temp and psyche.

• Opt for a shutdown. Give your oven a summer vacation. If you cook, use the stovetop, the microwave, or a barbecue. Deborah Madison, author of “Vegetable Soups” suggests grilling some extra vegetables when you’re making dinner. The next day, mix them with a little Feta cheese and olive oil for a great, cool snack. Sounds refreshing and healthy.

• Shut the lights off or change the bulbs to long-lasting compact fluorescent bulbs which produce about 70 percent less heat than standard incandescent bulbs.

• Stay hydrated. You can’t place enough emphasis on this one. Don’t fall into the trap of not drinking just because you don’t feel thirsty. Swig often to replace the moisture that you lose as you perspire. As you lose water through dehydration, your body temperature rises, so replacing fluids is essential to keeping cool. Avoid beverages that contain alcohol, caffeine, or sugar, which are diuretics. Deanna Kastor, an Olympic bronze medalist talks about opting for hydrating foods. Try a smoothie for lunch, and add more fruits and vegetables to all your meals. Watermelon has the greatest water content of any food out there.”

• Eat light. There’s a reason we reach for salads in the summer. They’re easier to digest than a fatty hamburger, which leaves you feeling sluggish in the high heat. Instead, go for fruits and vegetables, which are watery and help keep you hydrated, and ultimately cooler.

• Shuck your shoes. As the sweat on your feet evaporates, it cools the skin and the blood in your feet. Donald R. Bohay, M.D, orthopedist says blood vessels then whisk that blood to other parts of the body, so “you’re getting a greater sensation of coolness.”

• Spice it up. As people who live in scorching climates, such as those of Mexico and India know well, eating hot stuff can cool you down. Chili peppers contain capsaicin, a chemical compound that helps you perspire more readily. When this sweat evaporates, you experience brief relief.

• Try air drying dishes. Skip the drying cycle on the dishwasher. Instead, leave the door open to let the dishes dry. Put off using the dishwasher until evening when the air is cooler. Or simply wash your dishes the old-fashioned way, by hand.

• Dress right. Wear one of the widely-available synthetic fabrics designed to wick away sweat and that sticky feeling (examples include Coolmax and Nano-Tex); they’re not just for athletes anymore. If you prefer cotton, make it thin, light colored, and most of all, loose. The best thing is to have sweat evaporate directly from skin to air. The next best thing is for the sweat to move quickly from your skin to clothing and then evaporate. Loose, billowy clothes allow air movement next to the skin.

• Let your computer take a nap. Set it to go into low-power “sleep” mode if you are away from it for more than 10 minutes and it will give off less heat. When you’re finished for the day, shut the machine down completely. Despite what some IT person may have told you years ago, properly shutting down and restarting modern-day computers won’t put undue strain on the hardware. Forget about working with a computer on your lap―it’s too darn hot. Today’s technology has replaced laptops with notebooks to circumvent that issue.

• To keep yourself cooler when computing, plug in a Flexible Neck Fan with USB into your machine. The flexibility allows you to direct the breeze to your sweaty brow and help with evaporation.

• Run a fan and an air conditioner simultaneously. You can use the air conditioner at lower power and still feel cool if the fan is blowing over you. That’s because the air conditioner removes humidity from the air while the fan helps evaporate sweat and moves heat away from your body. (Note: Fans don’t cool a room; they just make people feel cooler, so shut them off before you leave.)

• Turn on the vent in the bathroom. When taking a shower, be sure to use the vent fan. It helps sticky moisture escape. Keep a spray bottle in the refrigerator, and when the going gets hot, give yourself a good squirt. As the water evaporates, it cools you.

• If the day’s heat is trapped inside your home, try a little ventilation at night or when the temperature drops below 77. A window fan can help. The trick is to face the blades outside to suck warm air out of the house and pull cooler air in. Having a fan blowing in is a good idea―but it’s not as effective as one that’s blowing out.

• Close the damper. While running any kind of air conditioner, shut your fireplace damper. An open one pulls hot air into your house instead of sucking it out. Chimney sweeps call this flow reversal.

• Close everything else, too. Whether the air conditioner is on or off, keep windows and doors shut if the temperature outside is more than 77 degrees Fahrenheit (most people start to sweat at 78). Whenever the outside air is hotter than the inside air, opening a window invites heat to creep in.

Create a makeshift air conditioner. If it’s hot but not humid, place a shallow bowl of ice in front of a fan and enjoy the breeze. As the ice melts, then evaporates, it will cool you off.

• Give your A/C some TLC. Clean or replace the filter in room and central air conditioners about once a month during the summer. If you have central air-conditioning, have the ducts checked for leaks, which can reduce a system’s efficiency by as much as 15 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Seal any cracks between a window unit and the frame with peelable caulking or a sealant strip. These steps help ensure good airflow and keep the coils clean, which means more efficient and more effective cooling.

• Put up Sun Blockers. Here is an interesting suggestion. Try a desert trick. When the air outside is dry and cooler than the air inside, hang a damp sheet in an open window. Dale Housley, a ranger at death Valley National Park, claims this to be extremely effective as incoming breezes are cooled by the evaporating water. Of course, it may not look very pretty in your neighborhood.

• Block the sun. Closing curtains and blinds (ideally with sun-deflecting white on the window side) can reduce the amount of heat that passes into your home by as much as 45 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

To be certain, many of us have our own homemade remedies for handling the heat. Most of the above are no cost and easily applied. The one suggestion that has not been listed above and should be first and foremost is common sense. We know the summers can be brutal, and it behooves all of us to remember that when we make any kind of plans, to include travel as well as leisure activities.

A simple task of going to the corner grocery store could become an unforgettable experience. We should never leave pets or children in a vehicle, even if the window is cracked. If your car breaks down or runs out of gas, do you have an alternative? Decent walking shoes should be with you at all times. There are many more sizzling days ahead for us. Being cognizant and prepared will go a long way in dealing with the “heat storm” that is a way of life in the southland.

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