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Staying Cool In a Heat Wave

In equatorial African countries, one of the most socially unacceptable things you can do as a foreigner is get caught standing around in the sun. As a naïve young volunteer, my host family members would constantly grab me by the arm, pull me into the shade of a mango tree, and stick a fan in my hand. Within my first year, I was doing the same to friends and visitors who hadn’t yet learned to fear the sun. 

When I came back home, I thought I’d seen the last of 100°F+ weather—at least I hoped. Unfortunately, it looks like we’re set on course to see hotter and hotter summers from here on out. Although there’s no way to really enjoy extreme temperatures, there are ways to protect yourself and power through. I have a few tips from my days in the desert.

Smart Consumption

If you’re sweating, sunburned, or just plain hot, your body will crave water. Not just the usual 8 cups, either. Drink until you’re no longer thirsty, and then drink some more. It can be tempting to enjoy beverages like iced coffee, tropical juices, or fruity cocktails on a hot day, but caffeine, sugar and alcohol will actually dehydrate you faster. If you’re partaking, make sure you drink a glass of water for each drink you have of anything else.

You can also maximize your water intake with the foods you eat. Raw fruits and veggies have high water content. Eating a light meal that’s rich in fruits and vegetables will keep you energized and hydrated.

Seek Refuge

One option is always to hole up in your house in the AC—or endlessly wander the aisles of a super market, or catch a double feature at the movie theater—but one of the joys of summer is being active, getting outside and doing things.

Try getting out of the city, and you may be surprised how much cooler it is in nature. The urban heat island is formidable, but you can overcome it with a little distance. Go for a shady hike in the woods, or swim at the beach or a lake. A little activity will keep you energized, not to mention give you an excuse for being so sweaty!

Just remember to take it easy. Even the strongest athletes can’t operate at 100% in a heat wave. You should also limit any physical exertion to the morning and evening only, and break for a long meal and a siesta for the hottest part of the day.

Change Your Routine

I used to be a morning shower-er until I went to Senegal. During the hot season, I became a morning, mid-morning, afternoon, and nighttime shower person. Really though.

If you need to cool down, splash some water on your face or jump in a cold shower, even just to rinse off—no soap needed!

Also, cater your outfits to the weather, not the latest trends. Wear loose fitting, cotton clothes, sunglasses and hats. It may be tempting to wear as little as possible—spaghetti straps and short shorts, for example—but light, loose clothing that covers your skin will actually keep you cooler and more protected in the long run.

If you’re a generally healthy person, the heat may be a drag or inconvenient, but for many people it can be life-threatening. If you have friends or family members that are elderly, in poor health, or with young children (not to mention pets!!), check in on them and make sure they’re staying safe and taking care of themselves.

skincare

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