Weather Hot Weather by Keeping Hydrated

July 28, 2015 in Health by Joyce Bunderson

A lovely vacation to Spain has given me a little food for thought. We began our trip in beautiful, perfect weather, Barcelona, Spain; and a little over three weeks later, ended in Barcelona again, but in blazing hot, sunny, extremely humid weather. During the last days of the trip, our Barcelona adventures motivated today’s subject.

  • First, age may creep up on you like it did on me. Certainly, I realize that I have a birthday every year, but it’s an adjustment to begin thinking of oneself as arriving at an age category that needs to be aware of hot weather risks.
  • Barcelona’s relatively dry air and moderate temperatures in early June were quite a contrast to the humid hot weather days of the first of July.
  • I chalk up losing my wide brimmed hat to the distraction of a wonderful Mediterranean meal in Granada. I guess my mindfulness was all into concentrating on the flavors and textures of a culinary delight. My packable wonderful hat that has traveled all over the world is now gone from me – guess I’ll have to get another from Coolibar where such sun-friendly items may be purchased.
  • We were walking up, up, up to visit Gaudi’s Guell; located on Carmel Hill. (Digression note: Antonio Gaudi is the famous Spanish architect, who is often associated with the over-the-top attention to eye-catching and highly original detail in much of his work. Without my hat, trying my best to walk along the shady side of the street (until there was no shade) I think I got quite a bit of exercise on a very hot, muggy, sunny, sunny day. I also stubbornly refused any of the hats my husband offered to purchase there, and barely missed the chance to purchase one on a great deal when a beach vendor in Marseilles was scared away by an impending police sweep.
  • No I was not prepared with a bottle of water. I didn’t realize what the weather was like, or what Carmel Hill was like. Tourist maps don’t tell elevation.
  • There was a vendor at the top of the hill offering bottles of frozen water. At the time it seemed a little like being handed gold for one euro. What a deal! I felt better after the water, but felt the effects of an overheated body for hours later.

Extreme heat can make it hard to regulate the body’s core temperature. Being older or having heart disease can both predispose people to heat-related illnesses. Meteorologist Scott Sheridan, PHD, associate professor of climatology at Kent State University, says that, “Once you get past 65, the thermoregulatory system has a harder time staying balanced.” In extreme heat waves, often more than half of the victims are over 75 years old.

The problem with humidity is that it inhibits the evaporation of sweat. Usually, our bodies cool themselves by opening pores and releasing water and salts. The water from the body is hot and evaporates – it’s changed to water vapor and carries away heat cooling the body. That process transfers the body’s heat to the air, as the water evaporates. Unfortunately, when the air is saturated with water – muggy, sultry days – sweat evaporates very slowly. When you live in the mountain west of the US (where I live) the air is very dry, so if you get real hot and sweaty, it carries the sweat away fast and cools you down fast.

Living most of my life in the western US I remember decades ago, the first time I actually felt very humid air that had been described so often to me. I got off a plane in Washington DC, in August. It was interesting; almost like steam. When the relative humidity is high enough, the body’s cooling system just can’t work. When sweat doesn’t evaporate fast enough, the body heats up. This is often the beginning of heat stroke or cramps from heat. It is a dangerous situation and can cause serious health problems. When the relative humidity is really high, it is as though the temperature is much higher. For example, 88 degrees F, with 85 percent humidity is equivalent to 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Even in the shade, working at this relative humidity is dangerous. I just noticed that our relative humidity is 23% today; which is a little more humid than usual at our home on the mountainside.

WebMd has excellent information on heat exhaustion and heat stroke. It may be of benefit to be familiar with the symptoms so that nothing serious happens to you or your loved ones.

It’s really fascinating that special high-tech synthetic fabrics have been developed for athletes and those who work in the sun in humid conditions. The fabrics wick the moisture away from the skin. The clothing pulls sweat off the skin through tiny channels in the fabric and deposits it to the surface of the fabric where it evaporates. What’s most fascinating about this type of fabric is that it is also comfortable in cold weather. If you’re exercising in the cold, the fabric also wicks away the moisture and helps to keep you dry and warm – you don’t have wet, cold fabric sitting on your skin, removing your body heat. So consider the fabric that you’re wearing in extreme weather.

According to an article in Scientific American, after urine, sweat is the second greatest source of body water loss. The more intense activity and the hotter the temperatures, the more your water loss through sweat increases. People actually accomplish heat acclimatization (match their thirst to water needs) as the temperatures increase; it increases the blood volume and increases total body water. Surely, the human body is amazing! This does not work well for those of us who spend much of the hot summer months indoors in air-conditioned environments. So you may not be able to count on your thirst mechanism to adapt as well as a person unaccustomed to the hot outdoors.

Drinking water any kind is key if you find yourself in a hot, possibly muggy situation. If you don’t care for plain water, you may want to consider some of the vast array of flavored options. Watch out for those that have sugar added. Then, substituting, for your only calorie-free intake - water, a drink containing calories is an unfortunate choice. The sweetened waters often have as much as 50 calories per cup (120 calories in a 20-ounce bottle). You may want to think of the 120 calories as 12 pounds a year, if you drank one every day.

Try to discover if your thirst mechanism works properly. Make a mental note now: if you recognize that you’re sweating, then you should feel thirsty. If you don’t, recognize that as people age, that’s yet another mechanism that degrades. Young children also may ignore thirst or not be able to recognize it as a sign to drink. So be aware; if the weather is hot and you’re in it, drink up; thirsty or not, and watch children in your care for symptoms of overheating.

Pack some water when you leave home. Water, whether it is in the fruits, vegetables or other foods and drinks you consume, or in the extra drinks you obtain along the way, is essential to keeping healthy in hot and hot/humid weather. Be safe and stay hydrated. Limit your activity if the relative humidity is high and limit how much time you spend in the sun. Also consider getting a hat, and some clothing that will help wick away sweat, if you’re doing physical activity in the hot weather. Lastly, if you or someone in your family is older or very young, keep a close eye on them for the signs of dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke, and keep that calorie-free cold drink handy.