This weekend has seen some high temperatures across the UK, with South-East England reaching 36 degrees, the hottest August day in 17 years.
What does that mean for our bodies? Anyone else noticed they are exhausted when they step inside from the garden? Have you lost your appetite? Can you just not stop sweating?
When it heats up, our bodies have to work a lot harder to maintain a level of equilibrium – a neutral state (including a safe and comfortable temperature). This means that as the temperature outside soars and we get our shorts and t-shirts to go to the beach in a burst of excitement about the beautiful day, our bodies have to fight to stay at an optimal temperature (around 36 degrees).
As your body begins to heat up, you start to sweat (if you’re me, you wonder if there is actually an issue, nope, it’s just really toasty). This is our nervous systems automatic mechanism to cool down. Meaning we don’t have to think about it, our nervous system is on autopilot to keep us safe (I’m sure for most of us, we’d really like to control it so we don’t sweat).
The longer we spend outside, in direct sunlight, the more we sweat and the more vital fluids and minerals we lose.
Over the course of a few hours, increased temperature and sweating, alongside decreased hydration can lead to a number of side effects. The easiest ones to spot are having a dry mouth and feeling the need to drink, headaches, dizziness, loss of appetite, increasing breathing or heart rate and fatigue.
Fun fact: by the time you need to drink, you’re already dehydrated. So, don’t wait.
This dehydration and overheating can develop until we stop sweating, a potential sign of heatstroke or heat exhaustion. Nerves are at high risk of strain from heat and the brain is made up of mostly of nerve cells. As the nerves in the brain aren’t hydrated enough to notice the heat, they slow down, leaving the body thinking it is cold rather than hot, with other signs like goosebumps, shivering and nausea. Equally, without the water in our blood to keep it moving, it plays havoc with our heart rate and blood pressure.
Challenge: Try to drink at least 2 litres of water a day, increase that with exercise and heat
There are simple strategies we can take to hydrate and prevent these side effects in the hot summer weather and I will detail a few of them. The main thing is to use common sense and think of what you would do if you were looking after a small child (this is my logic for a lot of things) if you were really being sensible and looking out for your best interest, would you do what you are doing?
Some easy tips to keep your body happy:
- Help your body temperature stay regulated
- Limit your time outside at the hottest part of the day (or stay out of it entirely)
- Sit in the shade or wear a hat if you are out
- Grab an ice lolly – your body uses more energy to regulate temperature, which means there’s more energy you can put in to stay perky and healthy – that seems a pretty good reason to grab a Calippo to me!
- All that extra energy burned does also mean you are likely to feel much sleepier as your body has to work much harder to do basic functions, you need to fuel it to keep going.
- Keep your water bottle filled – reusable, stainless steel bottles are great for staying cold even when it’s a scorcher outside
- Eat your water. It’s so simple. Cut up a load of fruits and veggies you love and eat them, they are full of water and great for replenishing energy and water stores quickly, as well as topping up those minerals. Think berries, watermelon, cucumbers, peppers, cherry tomatoes…
- Get some salts in too, as we sweat we’re losing those, so hydration goes beyond just water. Either grabbing a packet of crisps, some salted nuts, sprinkle a little salt on your veggies or pop an electrolyte tab in your water. Sorted!
- Limit alcohol – whilst it seems a great idea and is great fun, it will dehydrate you and the many trips to the loo the more you drink, the more fluids you’ll lose!
- Cool from the outside in
- For fun, you can also jump in a pool, the sea, or a lukewarm shower to get back to a neutral temperature.
- Wear your damn suncream. Protect your skin from the UV rays and the knock-on sunburn and wrinkles. We all want to keep our skin plump and youthful for as long as we can
- A little extra moisture from the cream will do wonders to keep you cool.
The sun definitely isn’t all bad and we can’t deny the positive effect it has in boosting our mood – all that serotonin, or the happy chemical – improving our overall wellbeing and alleviating some effects of poor mental health.
So enjoy yourself, be safe and look after your body – it’s the only one you’ve got!