Less than a week into summer, thermometers across the state are already reaching the triple digits. With months of blistering temperatures ahead, experts have some tips for Oklahomans on how to beat the heat.
“If you’re going to get out and exercise or work in the yard, do it early,” said Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation President Stephen Prescott, M.D., a physician and medical researcher. “The average temperature on an Oklahoma summer day at 7 a.m. is about 12 degrees cooler than at noon, and almost 20 degrees cooler than at 5 p.m.”
Although relative humidity may be higher in the morning, said Prescott, sweating actually cools more effectively at that time. “Sweat has to evaporate to provide cooling. Evaporation rates are controlled by water vapor pressure, and pressure is lower when temperatures are cooler.”
As challenging as mercury-busting temperatures are, people can adapt. “The key is to spend time being active each day in the heat,” Prescott said. “But leave yourself extra time; it’s better to dial back the intensity and take longer completing your task, whether that’s mowing the lawn or jogging a few miles.”
When you’re out in the heat, OMRF researcher and physician Patrick Gaffney, M.D., emphasizes the importance of protecting yourself from the sun. “The National Institutes of Health predicts 68,000 new cases of melanoma this year. Simple precautions like sunscreen and wearing a hat can help you avoid becoming one of them.”
Another key to keeping cool is hydration. As your body temperature rises and you sweat, you need to replace the lost fluid. And if you stay active in the heat for an extended period of time, you’ll also need to replenish the sodium and potassium that you’ve sweated out.
“Electrolyte replacement drinks like Gatorade will do the trick,” said Gaffney. “But so will water or lemonade and some salty snacks like pretzels.”
A recent study from New Zealand offered a novel strategy for athletes to improve performance in the heat. Before exercising, athletes drank a “slushie”—a sweetened, ice drink. Researchers then found that these athletes were able to run in the heat considerably longer than subjects who drank only syrup-flavored cold water before their run.
“It appears that the icy drinks lowered body temperatures prior to exercise. So it took the slushie-drinkers longer to overheat,” said Prescott.
While the “pre-cooling” effect was relatively short-lived, Prescott said an ice-based beverage “would be perfect before a game of tennis or an hour of pulling weeds.”
Regardless of the time of day, if you begin to experience symptoms of heat illness or dehydration like dizziness or nausea, stop what you’re doing and get to a cool place as soon as possible. “Drink cold water and try to lower your core temperature with wet towels or, better yet, a cool bath,” said Prescott. “And if your symptoms don’t resolve quickly, seek medical attention.”