How to keep cool in a heatwave
We all look forward to summer but sometimes the heat can get the better of us. Health writer and nutritionist Kerry Torrens explores how to beat the heat and stay healthy through the summer months.
The heat is on...
Although many of us enjoy the sunshine, high temperatures can be dangerous and even harmful to our health. Some people are more susceptible to heat exhaustion and heat stroke – this is especially relevant for those who are overweight, elderly or very young, on certain medications or living with certain chronic health conditions. It’s important to be aware that people who have a pre-existing health condition such as a heart or respiratory illness may experience worsening symptoms in hot weather. This is because our heart and respiratory rates increase as our bodies attempt to manage the hot conditions.
It's important to keep yourself and others safe from extreme temperatures. Consider how you can best do this, especially when out and about, or when visiting public buildings. It’s useful to know that most forms of air conditioning are permitted for continued use, however, if you have concerns you should assess your personal risk and act accordingly.
Some simple steps to take in your home
Adopting a few changes in your home may promote a more comfortable environment:
- During the daytime close the curtains and blinds of all rooms exposed to direct sunlight.
- Open windows when the air is cooler, for example when the house is in shade – this will encourage air flow and circulation. It’s helpful to promote a level of air flow through your home, as long as it is safe to do so.
- Electric fans are an alternative and will help to circulate the air, however, you should avoid their use if any member of the household is unwell with an airborne illness.
- Be aware that temperatures may be cooler outside than in – if accessing public spaces, be sure to practice social distancing in line with UK government guidelines.
- Check that home appliances including fridges and freezers are working effectively.
- If you have specific concerns about the temperature of your home, contact the environmental officer at your local authority.
Looking after yourself
A few simple lifestyle changes may help you better cope in high temperatures:
- Stay hydrated – your fluid needs are higher in hot temperatures because your body will need to replace the fluid lost in sweat. Everyone is at risk of dehydration but the elderly, children and babies are at greatest risk. Water is the best drink for hydration but low-fat milk, tea and coffee also count, although you should avoid excess alcohol.
- Increase your intake of lighter, fresher foods – fresh fruits and vegetables are useful sources of hydration. Strawberries, melon, cucumbers and courgettes are all great choices.
- Stick as closely as possible to your normal routine including meal and bedtimes.
- If possible, choose lightweight, loose clothing in pale colours, preferably cotton or linen – these fabrics absorb perspiration and encourage ventilation.
- Keep out of the heat when it is at its hottest (typically between 11am and 3pm) and do any exercise or physical chores at cooler times of the day such as early morning or late evening.
- Stay informed – keep up to date with the weather forecast. Hot weather can make air pollution worse so if you or a member of your household suffers from a respiratory condition make sure to limit time out of doors.
- If you do need to go out, keep to the shade where possible, wear a wide-brimmed hat and apply an appropriate factor of sunscreen frequently.
- Take some simple steps to promote restful sleep by adopting a few small changes to your bedroom and wind-down routine.
*With temperatures reaching an all time high, it is recommended that you try to stay out of the heat and cool yourself down as much as you can. Try to be mindful of friends, family and neighbours who might be more vulnerable in these conditions and seek medical advice should you begin to feel unwell.
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This article was updated on 7 July 2022.
A qualified nutritionist (MBANT), Kerry Torrens is a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food magazine. Kerry is a member of the The Royal Society of Medicine, Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC), British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT).
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