Good news for the Northern Hemisphere. June 21 will be the official start of summer in the Northern Hemisphere. I’m a little early (or late) if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere. Check out my cold-weather articles if you’re from elsewhere. For us northerners, however, it’s time to turn up the heat.

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I’ve known for as long as I’ve practiced medicine that, in the first few scorching days, I’ll be treating some otherwise healthy folks with heat-related issues. In fact, not long ago I treated a guy in his early 20s who had chest pain, a headache, and was feeling terrible because he’d been working on a roof. He’s done it for years without issue. But around here, the temperature abruptly shot up from a daytime high of about 75 degrees to one near 90 degrees Fahrenheit. He hadn’t had enough time to adapt.

He was fortunate to escape the heat as soon as he felt dizziness or nausea. With a few glasses of water and some rest, he was back on his feet in a few hours.

I think it’s safe to assume that in a few weeks, he’ll be working at the same temperature without feeling any of these symptoms. Why?

He’ll be acclimated.

Whether you’ve been working or living in the heat for a long time, your body must re-acclimate to it each year. As a result of sudden changes like heat waves, everyone is harmed.

Perhaps it’s because the electricity went out. In my opinion, this is a catastrophe. Perhaps you’re on vacation in a hot region. Any significant temperature change—for example, 10 degrees Fahrenheit or more—will need time for your body to adapt.

How Does Your Body Adapt to the Heat?

When the weather warms up, your body adapts in a variety of ways.

1. If you apply the same amount of effort while sweating, your body becomes more efficient. Your skin cools as a result of perspiration. The faster it evaporates, the greater the cooling effect, so a gentle breeze might assist (to an extent). Humid conditions, on the other hand, may slow down evaporation.

When you’re used to more heat, your body develops an increased sweat production and begins sweating at a lower temperature. The new sweat has less salt concentration, so you don’t lose as much sodium. Sweating also evaporates faster, cooling the skin quicker due to the lesser-concentrated perspiration.

2. Your circulation is more efficient. Your body also adapts to the heat by putting a little more fluid into your blood. This increases the volume of your blood, allowing it to pump out more with each beat. In response, your heart rate slows down, lowering your body’s metabolic demands and decreasing your metabolism slightly. Metabolism generates heat because it consumes calories. As a result, your body is now producing less of its own heat and the external heat source isn’t as significant.

Another thing to note is that your body can’t make these adaptations in a jiffy. It takes at least a day for it to begin attempting, and two weeks for the adaptation to finish. It will only know how to start working on these processes if it has been exposed to at least two hours of extra heat every day during this time period.

What Can You Do Meantime?

You can aid your body’s ability to survive and acclimate over the first few days of intense heat.

1. Increase your workload gradually. Your body generates heat on its own. The more work you do, the hotter you become. So if you’re going to be outside for a while, take it easy those first few days and eat frequent breaks. Remember, your body only requires a few hours of exposure each day in order to adapt. Accumulating at least an hour of time spent in the sun is optimal, but shade is beneficial as well. Additionally, taking advantage of air conditioning is encouraged.

Because we who spend the majority of our time inside are indoors most of the day, a walk or some light yard work in the coolest part of the day may help start the acclimation process. Alternatively, sit in the shade for a while. I’ve also seen suggestions to avoid keeping your indoor temperature below about 10 degrees Fahrenheit than outside. Perhaps not very realistic—not to mention hazardous—if it’s 105 degrees outside, but you might gradually turn it up a touch, at least to low to mid-70s?

2. To go topless is a good idea. You lose about two-thirds of your heat from the waist down. So, for modesty’s sake, consider wearing a loose, breathable shirt. The main problem here is helmets’ use. They might be required for safety, but they also retain a lot of heat. So if you’re wearing headgear, go even slower in the sun. And again, taking them off when you’re out of danger and then putting it back on can help a lot. Even with protection, try using one that breathes or removing it occasionally to fan yourself with it .

3. Drink lots of liquids. Your body must have adequate fluids in order to function effectively and sweat efficiently. Drink more water in the heat to keep your thirst at bay. In arid regions, dehydration may be difficult to detect because you’re not sweating enough. Sweating can vanish so quickly that you may never realize you’re sweating at all. However, when exposed to the same heat, you will certainly lose more liquid than when under humid conditions. One of the ways your body adjusts to heat is by making you feel thirstier; nevertheless, don’t rely on it too much. Whether or not you are thirsty or not, you must replace any fluids that have been lost.

4. Stay in shape. Because your body doesn’t have to work as hard, being in good physical condition is a major benefit. Fat? Well, it’s a fantastic insulator. It keeps heat rather well. If your body is trying to cool down, this isn’t the best situation.

Acclimation Has Its Limits

Heat-related illnesses can affect anyone who is exposed to it, but for some of us, we just don’t acclimate as quickly. Our bodies may not adapt as readily for babies, people in their 60s and older, and those with a chronic condition or on certain medications. We’re at greater risk and will need to take more precautions in order to stay cool.

What are your plans for the summer?

Photo by Tandem X Visuals on Unsplash

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