Now that beautiful summer weather is here, we all want to spend more time outdoors enjoying the warm sun and summertime air. While basking in the sun can feel glorious on a beautiful day, we must take a little extra caution on days where the heat and humidity can become excessive. If you’re not careful, things like heat exhaustion and heat stroke can occur, and in extreme cases these heat related illnesses might even be fatal.
Simply by taking a few extra precautions and listening to warning signs from our bodies, heat related illnesses are completely preventable. Plus, there are plenty of fun and healthy activities you can do indoors in order to stay safe during the hottest days of the year!
Several different heat related illnesses can develop if you’re not careful when exposing yourself to excessive heat outdoors. They range from less serious illnesses like heat cramps and heat exhaustion to extremely serious illnesses like heat stroke and even death. According to the CDC, there were 7,415 heat related deaths in the U.S. from 1999-2010. These heat related deaths and illnesses are entirely preventable. Heat illnesses can sneak up on you and escalate quickly, but if you know the warning signs and take proper measures to prevent them from accelerating, you can avoid serious injury.
During warmer weather, your body is constantly working to disperse the heat it produces and stay cool. Under normal conditions, your body works efficiently in the background, and you don’t even notice it’s happening. However, if you’re exposed to more heat than your body can handle, then your body can become overworked and you may begin to feel signs of a heat related illness.
High humidity can also further encourage illness from heat related stress. When humidity is high, there is more moisture in the air, which causes your sweat to evaporate more slowly. If your sweat doesn’t evaporate, your body won’t be able to release heat as quickly as it needs to in order to keep your body temperature regulated. You may have heard people comment on how hot certain areas of the country are, but proclaim, “at least it’s a dry heat!” Well, the next time someone makes this statement, you’ll understand why!
Signs and Symptoms of Heat Related Illnesses
If you or someone you know has ever experienced a heat related illness, you know how scary it can be! In order to prevent these heat related illnesses from escalating to a serious medical condition, it’s important to know the signs and symptoms of the three major heat related illnesses and how to treat them:
- Heat cramps — Heat cramps can happen when salt levels in the body are exceptionally low due to excessive sweating. This can often occur after physical activity or overexertion on an extremely hot day.
- Symptoms: Pain and cramping in the abdomen, arms or legs.
- Treatment: Move to a shaded area and sit or lie down. Drink cool water to rehydrate. Try to stretch the affected muscles and rest for the next few hours.
- Heat exhaustion — Heat exhaustion happens when your body loses large amounts of water and salt in a short amount of time. People who work outdoors or who exercise in excessive heat are especially susceptible to experiencing heat exhaustion. Your body temperature will usually be elevated to between 101 and 104 degrees if you’re experiencing heat exhaustion.
- Symptoms: Severe thirst, nausea or vomiting, dizziness, clammy or pale skin, elevated body temperature, rapid pulse, profuse sweating and headache. If left untreated, heat exhaustion can lead to a much more serious condition like heat stroke.
- Treatment: Move to a shaded area or air-conditioned room. Drink cold water and apply cool wet towels to your body or take a cool shower until your body temperature returns to normal.
- Heat stroke — Heat stroke can happen when your body temperature rises quickly to over 104 degrees and it can’t work fast enough to cool itself down. Typically, heat stroke happens in conjunction with dehydration, causing your body’s natural cooling system to fail. When your body temperatures rise dangerously high, your internal organs are damaged by the heat. This can be fatal or lead to serious permanent damage to your organs.
- Symptoms: Extremely hot skin, nausea and vomiting, dizziness, muscle weakness, confusion, unconsciousness and seizures.
- Treatment: Call emergency medical help right away. Move the person to a half seated position that is shielded from the sun or inside an air-conditioned room. Remove any unnecessary clothing to allow air to reach their skin. Spray them with water or apply ice to their neck, back and armpits as these areas have many blood vessels close to the skin. Fan them vigorously to help cool their body temperature.
Who’s at Risk
Pretty much anyone is susceptible to a heat related illness if they’re not careful, but there are certain people who are at a higher risk than others of experiencing a heat related illness. Those most at risk include:
- Children under the age of 2
- Elderly over the age of 65
- People taking certain medications that may alter sweat production
- People who excessively consume alcohol
- People with long term illnesses or heart and circulatory problems
- People who work or exercise outdoors
- Pets who are left outdoors for long periods of time
If you have friends, family members or neighbors that may be at greater risk for experiencing a heat related illness, check in on them in extreme weather conditions to make sure they’re ok. Have someone do the same for you if you fall into one of these categories and are at a greater risk of getting a heat related injury.
How to Stay Healthy in Hot Weather
There are several precautions you can take to avoid heat related illnesses and stay healthy in summer. Simply listening to warning signs your body gives you will allow you to take part in fun physical activity. Here are a few other precautions you can take to stay safe:
- Drink lots of water and don’t wait until you’re thirsty to take a gulp. If you’re thirsty, it means your body is already warning you of dehydration.
- Avoid alcohol and sugary drinks like soda, as they tend to make you thirstier rather than quenching your thirst. Sugar, caffeine and alcohol all act as a diuretic that make you more dehydrated than you were before you drank them. If plain water is not appealing to you, try adding fruit slices like oranges, lemons or watermelon to your water to give it a light, natural flavor that will keep you hydrated.
- Wear loose, lightweight, light-colored clothing. Dark clothes and heavier fabrics can trap heat in, making it difficult for your body to cool itself.
- Limit outdoor activity during the hottest part of the day — 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. If you typically workout during this time of the day, move your workouts indoors to an air-conditioned location, like your local YMCA, to avoid excessive heat exposure. Even partaking in outdoor activities like gardening should be done earlier in the morning or later in the evening in order to avoid overexerting yourself during the hottest part of the day.
- Pace yourself when working out and pay attention to signs from your body. If you’re feeling signs of fatigue, take a break and hydrate until you feel your body returning to normal.
- Wear sunscreen and a hat to protect from the sun. Use sunscreen that is at least SPF 30 and protects against both UVA and UVB rays. It’s important to reapply sunscreen regularly, about every 2 hours, if you’re going to be outdoors for a prolonged amount of time. Otherwise, the sunscreen you applied a few hours earlier will not protect you from sunburn later in the day. Sunburn is not only painful and unsightly, it also negatively affects the body’s ability to cool itself and can increase your risk for skin cancer later in life.
- Stay in air-conditioned locations as much as possible. If you don’t have air conditioning in your home, use ceiling fans or stationary fans to blow air directly on you. This will help keep your body temperature from elevating. If heat and humidity levels are dangerously high, using a fan alone may not be enough. It’s best to move to a location like your local rec center, the library, the mall or even the grocery store during the hottest part of the day.
- Take cool/cold showers or baths to cool your internal body temperature. Alternatively, place cool, damp towels around your neck or forehead. As the cool water evaporates, your skin and internal body temperature will lower slightly as well.
- Never leave children or pets in parked cars. Even when the windows are cracked or open all the way, heat levels can get dangerously high inside a car sitting in direct sunlight.
- In order to be prepared ahead of time for dangerous weather, sign up for weather alerts on your phone or via email from your local news or weather station. Knowing what the weather is going to be like ahead of time will allow you the opportunity to prepare and plan your schedule and activities in advance.
Safe Summertime Activities
Staying healthy in summer doesn’t have to mean spending your days lounging on the couch in your air-conditioned living room. Here are a number of fun activities that are sure to get your heart pumping and blood flowing all summer long.
Swimming is a great activity that’s perfect for hot summer days. The water will help keep you cool from the heat, and the physical activity will provide a great cardio workout at the same time. It’s also a great activity for kids that will keep them entertained for hours. It may not be the best idea to take kids swimming between the hours of 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. as the sun’s rays are the strongest during this time. The sun’s rays are even amplified in the swimming pool by reflecting off the glistening water, and this puts you and your children at greater risk for sunburn.
Instead of swimming at your local pool in the mid-afternoon, schedule an indoor swimming lesson for your kids at the YMCA. This way, they can still enjoy the fun of the water, but they’ll be protected from the sun’s rays and you’ll be happy as they become even stronger swimmers in the process.
There are many aquatic fitness classes for adults as well! Whether you’re looking for exercise that’s low impact or you simply just love the water, an aquatic group fitness class may be just for you. You can also schedule lap time to swim laps at your own pace. And the best part is, you won’t have to put on sunscreen since you’ll be indoors away from the sun’s rays!
Try a new group exercise class during the summer months to switch up your workout routine. Not only will you get to learn a new way to exercise, but you’ll also get to meet new people and work up a sweat indoors too! If you’re looking for something less strenuous, yoga might just be the perfect way to stretch and balance internally and externally. If you want to work up a sweat, try a fast-paced spin class or cardio kickboxing to get your body moving and your blood pumping.
If your kids complain of being bored during the summer months, it may be time to break out some board games and challenge them to a match. There are plenty of games that combine fun, brain stimulation and a little educational value that your kids will love playing. Word games, math games and even strategy games will get your kid’s brainpower out of summer hibernation and into safe, fun competition!
Summer camp is another great way to keep kids active and moving over their summer break. Summer camps allow kids and teens a chance to play and stay active throughout the summer months. It also teaches them to interact with others in a team environment and cultivate lasting friendships with other campers.
Your local YMCA offers daytime summer camps for a variety of ages every year. Your kids will have the chance to learn and play team sports like field hockey, lacrosse, soccer, basketball, golf, volleyball and swimming. You can rest easy at work knowing your kids are in good hands and having fun with friends during the day!
Go to Your Local YMCA for Summer Fun
Staying safe in hot weather in Harrisburg, PA is easy by taking a few extra precautions and limiting outdoor activity in extreme heat. By becoming a member of the Harrisburg Area YMCA, you will be able to move your workouts indoors and stay healthy all while in the comfort of an air-conditioned facility. We offer free child watch services to members while they workout, so bring your kids along and let them enjoy some fun activities at the YMCA too! We also offer daytime camp for kids home from school during the summer months.
Check out our class schedules and group fitness instruction list for more fun options and ideas on how to stay healthy in hot weather.