How To Adjust To The Heat And Survive The Summer
By John Hall
It is currently the beginning of July and we have finally experienced the wrath of Central California’s triple digit temperatures. Ask anybody about how they are doing with the heat and most likely you will be answered with a sigh of exasperation and a response that aligns with “living in Hell” or “just avoiding the fires of the sun”. If you pay attention to social media, you will notice Facebook and Instagram friends posting a screenshot of the weather forecast with a sad or mad face. Admittedly, it can be hard to do normal things while the days and nights are so hot. But, I have some ideas on how one can acclimate to the heat and make the next eight to ten weeks a little easier on the mind and body.
First, allow me to mention why I feel qualified to make suggestions and write this piece to begin with:
1. I am from Madera, California.
2. I live in Fresno, California.
3. I have worked outside every summer in some way, shape or form since I was 9 years old.
4. In my teens, my weekends included yard work and landscaping in multiple neighborhoods for spending money.
5. In highschool, I was introduced to a new kind of suffering known as Cross-Country running; in which the bulk of the season I never felt like my thirst for water would ever end.
6. At the end of highschool, I went straight to city college and worked for UPS in the evening as an unloader/loader of the frieght trailers you see on the freeway. I started this part time job in June, 2001 and learned quickly how forgiving cross-country really was compared to what I was now doing. The trailers we unloaded and loaded baked in the sun all day and reached temperatures upward of 120 degrees inside. I never left work without every article of clothing soaked in sweat until October.
7. I have since stayed active with some sort of fitness (namely CrossFit and endurance training) typically without the luxury of air conditioning.
8. I have served Fresno County as an EMT for the last six years and have responded to dozens of heat-related calls.
Through all of this, I have done some experimenting, research and documenting of what I believe helps with getting through the hottest parts of our year…including what can be done before, during, and after workouts, a work day and just plain exposure to the summer heat. Let’s begin with some things one can do beforehand and in preparation.
Hydration is a key component to optimizing health and endurance of heat. This can sometimes be misconstrued to include any kind of fluid intake, but the best fluid to consume is water. Your body must have it. Sports drinks are not what they used to be. Decades ago, Gatorade provided nearly equal amounts of sodium and sugar to aid in replenishing fluid loss from sweat and fueling the body during exercise. These days, it has a small amount of sodium and large amounts of sugar…most likely the reason it tastes so good and keeps an athlete coming back for more. Consuming sports drinks to get through the heat is not the best idea. Neither is soda. Actually, soda is probably the worst thing one can drink, hot day or not. One loader I worked with at UPS drank a Pepsi from the vending machine because he “didn’t like water” and it troubled him the whole shift with stomach cramps and an even greater thirst. If you have a hard time drinking water, there are a couple things you can do that will provide benefit. One is to add some lemon or lemon juice for taste. Another is to add an Airborne tab or Emergen-C packet (these vitamin boosters replenish electrolytes much better than anything else on the store shelf). Both of these options will not only enhance the taste of your water, but will aid in recovery. And at a reasonable price too. Kill Cliff and Fit-Aid aren’t bad choices as long as a little carbonation doesn’t bother you and they aren’t the only source of your hydration. Things like coffee, tea, beer, etc. should be used sparingly because excess caffeine and alcohol can interfere with the body’s ability to cool down.
Another good thing to do is also the one idea that seems counterintuitive: get outside. To expose yourself to the outdoors is a great way to acclimate, but it must be done in a smart way. The explanation for this is simple. The more we are exposed to something, the better we can handle it. This works incredibly well for hot and cold weather. Starting small is the wisest route in this instance and it must be mentioned that pre-existing health conditions should be considered and perhaps for those concerned- a medical doctor should be consulted first. As far as starting small, I’m talking about sitting in the shade outside for a set time (something like ten minutes). The next step could be sitting in the sun with sunblock or a hat for 5 minutes. After that start taking a short walk during the heat of the day. This could be followed by a short jog for those that are handling it well. Get sweaty, think positive and wear sunblock or some other covering. These experiences WILL get easier.
That brings me to the next topic of physical sun protection. A sunblock or sunscreen that is at the very least an SPF of 30 or higher is your best bet. Even if you are only outside for a brief amount of time. Long sleeves and pants that are made of a light material and breathe well are also smart. This is the route that many folks use for summer time yard work. A hat is an excellent idea. Your hat should also be a light and breathable material that has a brim on it. The best hat would be something that casts a shadow over your face and neck. I swear by my straw cowboy-style hat and my camo-print booney hat that looks like something my military relatives would wear. Covering your head, face and neck is the goal here.
During a hot work day and a hot workout, there are some basic things to remember. The first is that even a little hydration here and there will help you feel cooler and allow the body to regulate core temperature well. Secondly, monitoring how you feel is important. If you are familiar with checking your pulse, it’s useful to get a quick reading from time to time when you are starting to feel a little out of sorts. A pulse that is faster than normal in the heat can become a bad thing very quickly. If you would like to learn how to find out what your normal pulse is and how to monitor this, the only equipment you need is a clock or watch that shows the seconds. From there, you count the pounding pulses on the inside of your wrist or under your jaw line while watching the clock. The goal is to calculate how many beats you feel per minute. However with some rudimentary math, you can hold and count for a shorter time (like 15 seconds) and then multiply upward for your reading. Please approach myself or a coach if this seems confusing. Thirdly, if you start to see “stars” while breathing hard or can’t seem to recover after performing a specific skill or task, it’s time to take a break. This feeling can escalate quickly into a form of exhaustion that takes a lot of time to come back from. Once you feel your vision or hearing is affected, even in the slightest, start some deep breathing and slow walking. As is popular in CrossFit, many athletes fall to the floor and lie down on the ground once a WOD is done. While this is sometimes unavoidable, it is better to recover on your feet or sitting on your butt. Lying flat on the floor is a good way to mess with your blood pressure and your hearts ability to get back to normal while your core temp is running high. Lastly, breathing plays a large role in recovery and managing the body’s ability to cope with the heat. To practice slow, deliberate breathing before, during, and after heat exposure is always a good idea.
Recovery is often overlooked by far too many of us. Typically stretching and consuming a protein shake is a part of our normal routine (hopefully), but there are a few other things that can be done in the summer that will help the body get back to normal. These are things that can also be done after practicing the heat exposure I mentioned earlier. One easy thing to do that sometimes escapes very smart people is to find a cool area to hang out for a bit…whether that be an air conditioned room or using the air conditioning in your car as you drive home. Once you start recovering, don’t wait on drinking water or something else recommended. Your water doesn’t need to be ice cold. As a matter of fact, it will be better welcomed by the body if it is simply cool. If you are having a hard time recovering by the time you have reached your water, drink it slowly. Rushing it will in some cases make you feel worse and overload an already overwhelmed set of vital organs. Now if you are like me, it is sometimes hard to stop sweating, even in an air conditioned room. At some point for your own health, you need to stop sweating so much. To aid in this, a cold shower is very effective. Start with water that is cool enough to handle normally and progressively start making it colder until it is cold enough to make you want to get out. Hanging out in very cold water for a few minutes is not only good for many of the body’s processes on the regular, but it will also help you cool down and stop sweating. Another great idea is a cold bath (or swimming pool). Add ice at some point if you like, but just a cold water bath provides similar benefits that a cold shower does and then some.
Whatever your method of getting used to the scorching summer, keep in mind that it takes a little work and perhaps some routine setting. It will definitely be worth your while, especially if you plan on living in this area for summers to come.
Stay strong out there and please address questions and concerns if you have them. And of course, be careful. I will see you inside and OUTSIDE of the gym.