How to Stay Cool in the Heat: Practical Tips for Every Situation

There’s no denying that global temperatures are on the rise, bringing more incidences of heatwaves around the world due to climate change. Staying cool in the sweltering weather isn’t just a matter of comfort or preference — it’s critical for the health and safety of your family, pets, and the elderly and vulnerable.

Given the influx of heatwaves sweeping across the U.S. and Europe, hot weather safety and understanding how to manage and prevent heat-related health conditions is becoming more important. This guide offers some of the most effective strategies and hot weather tips to help you stay cool and calm during a hot day.

Understanding the heat and why it might be dangerous

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Our bodies are always trying to maintain a state of homeostasis or balance. This includes maintaining a stable internal temperature. When we are exposed to extreme heat, the body works hard to keep us cooler on the inside, primarily through the mechanism of sweating. If you’ve ever engaged in physical activity in the heat, you’ll notice how fast your body begins to perspire to try and cool you down as the sweat evaporates from your skin.

However, when we are exposed to extreme summer heat or go through prolonged periods in high temperatures, this cooling mechanism can become overworked and overwhelmed, potentially leading to the onset of heat-related illnesses.

Heat exhaustion

Heat exhaustion happens when your body loses too much water and salt through excessive sweating after being exposed to high temperatures. Symptoms to look out for include:

  • Heavy sweating
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Muscle cramps

These symptoms need to be addressed quickly and efficiently to help prevent the development of more severe conditions.

Heat fact
According to a report published in Nature Medicine, researchers estimated over 60,000 excess deaths were caused by heat in Europe between May-Sept 2022.

Heatstroke

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When our body’s temperature regulation systems fail, we are at risk of a serious and potentially life-threatening condition called heatstroke. You may have heard the term used on the news whenever there’s a heatwave, and it’s important to know what to look out for. Symptoms include:

  • Body temperature above 104°F (40°C)
  • Confusion
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Fainting/loss of consciousness
Heat fact
In 2023, the U.S. had the most heatwaves (abnormally hot weather lasting two or more days) since 1936.

6 ways to stay cool in the heat

With things hotting up all over the planet, knowing ways to keep cool can mean the difference between staying healthy in the heat, melting into a pool of sweat, or potentially suffering from a more serious heat-related condition. We’ve compiled six of the most useful tips to help you stay chilled during the hot weather.

1. Stay hydrated

In order for our bodies to regulate temperature effectively, we need to make sure we stay hydrated. When we sweat, we lose a lot of fluid, and this increases during physical exertion or during heatwaves. Keep an eye out for dehydration symptoms, such as feeling thirsty, having a dry mouth, or feeling tired when you’ve had enough sleep

  • Drinking water regularly helps our bodies to function optimally and prevents dehydration.
  • Electrolyte drinks and isotonic sports drinks can replenish the electrolytes lost through sweating and exercise.
Top summer hydration tips
Carry a water bottle with you, set alarm reminders to drink at regular intervals, and avoid alcohol dehydration, which can be more prevalent in the heat.

2. Dress for the heat

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Dressing right for the weather can make an enormous difference to your comfort during the hottest seasons. Choosing clothes that let your body breathe is going to be a smarter option than synthetic sweat traps.

  • Opt for lightweight and breathable fabrics such as cotton and linen, and make sure your clothing is loose so that the air can flow freely.
  • Lighter color clothing is better as it reflects sunlight rather than dark shades, which absorb more heat.
Top tip
Don’t forget your sunscreen and a good sunhat to provide shade and protect your head from direct sunlight. Sunglasses will also protect your eyes from the harsh glare of the sun and harmful UV rays.

3. Eat light and hydrating foods

Choosing light meals and high water content foods will help with your hydration levels and stop you from feeling too hot, heavy, and full.

  • Foods like cucumber, watermelon, pineapple, and strawberries contain a lot of water and help to hydrate you.
  • Avoid heavy and hot foods because dense meals increase heat production as your body digests and metabolizes.
Top tip
Try adding chopped strawberries and cucumber with a sprig of fresh lime to a jug of ice water. You’ll get a nice, fruity, cool flavor, and you can nibble on the fruits, too.

4. Stay indoors during peak heat

During the hottest parts of the day, try to avoid the outdoors as much as possible to prevent heat-related illnesses.

  • Timing is everything, as the sun is usually at its strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Plan your outdoor activities for early morning or late afternoon when it’s slightly cooler.
  • If you are outside in the hot part of the day, make sure you can access shady places to rest and take frequent breaks out of the sun.
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Top tip
If you have to be outside when the sun is blazing, create shaded areas using umbrellas that you can rest in.

5. Use cooling techniques

Sometimes, avoiding the heat altogether just isn't possible, so here are a few cooling techniques you can use throughout the day.

  • Use ice packs and cold, wet towels, and take cold showers to lower your body temperature and get instant relief from the heat.
  • Make sure you have good ventilation and airflow by using fans, air conditioning, and opening windows during the cooler parts of the day.
Top tip
DIY solutions like homemade popsicles and misting bottles are a great way to refresh yourself during a heatwave.

6. Keep your living space cool

When it’s sweltering outside, you need to make sure that your indoor environment offers you a sanctuary from the heat.

  • Block out direct sunlight using curtains and blinds to keep your rooms from heating up too much.
  • Using a dehumidifier can lower the humidity levels in the house, which may make the air feel cooler and a bit more comfortable.
Top tip
If you know you live in an area susceptible to heatwaves, consider getting black-out blinds or shutters to keep out the blazing sunshine during the hot part of the day.

Special considerations for vulnerable groups

There are certain vulnerable groups in heat who are generally more susceptible to suffering from heat-related health risks. It’s important to know how to take care of vulnerable people in our families and community when there’s a heatwave, so here are some precautions to keep in mind.

GroupHow they are affectedExtra precautions
Children and the elderlyChildren and the elderly aren’t able to regulate their body temperatures as effectively, which puts them at greater risk of being badly affected by prolonged heat exposure.To help keep them safe, make sure you assist them to stay properly hydrated, ensure they wear the right clothing, and keep them out of extreme heat as much as possible.
People with health conditionsThose who have underlying health conditions or are taking certain medications could be more vulnerable to the effects of heat exposure.Consult with healthcare professionals about specific precautions related to their condition and make sure they have a cool, safe environment away from harsh sunlight.
Pets and animalsIt’s not just people who need protection from the heat. Our pets and animals need places to keep cool, too.Make sure there’s plenty of water and access to shade, and don’t walk them outside during peak heat times of the day.

First aid for heat illness

Being able to respond quickly and effectively to the signs and symptoms of a heat-related illness could potentially save someone's life. The table below details what to look for in a person who might be suffering from a heat condition and the heat-related first-aid actions you can take to help.

ConditionSigns and symptomsAction
Heat exhaustionHeavy sweating, weakness, dizziness, nausea, and muscle cramps.Move the person to a cool place, provide water or sports drinks, and cool the skin with a damp cloth or a cool shower.
HeatstrokeHigh body temperature, confusion, rapid heartbeat, and unconsciousness.Call emergency services immediately. Move the person to a cool place, apply cold or ice packs, put wet cloths on their body, and do not give them fluids to drink.

Final thoughts on heatwave preparedness

It’s not always easy to keep cool during the summer, especially when hit by a sweltering heatwave. However, heatwave preparedness can make a world of difference to your comfort and safety. Knowing how the body reacts to heat and adopting effective strategies to bring your body temperature down can protect you, your family, and your loved ones from the risks of heat-related illnesses.

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