Seniors Should take Summer Heat Seriously

The cure for many cases of cabin fever is here: warm summer sun. Everything from barbecues to beaches bring people out in droves to enjoy the warm weather. But oftentimes, the summer brings more than bright, sunny days. It can also bring sweltering heat and unbearable humidity that makes even the brightest summer days seem dreary. These dog days of summer are hard on the body and can result in anything from heat stroke to heat exhaustion if above-normal temperatures are not taken seriously -- especially by the elderly.

Taking minor precautions before spending time outdoors on blistering days can help you prevent heat-related illnesses. The heat is out of your control, but you can control the effects it has on your body by following a few of the guidelines below:

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Hydration is Key

The average person needs eight to 12 cups of water daily to help maintain body temperatures and to transport wastes, nutrients and other substances. But as temperatures rise, so does your body's need for this essential element. With higher mercury readings, perspiration, the body's way of cooling itself, increases, therefore depleting the body of more of its essential fluids. This is especially true when exercising or taking part in strenuous activities during peak heat hours.

Dehydration is common among the elderly because as the body ages, sweat glands don't work as well and blood vessels carry less blood to the skin as they once did. So, the body becomes less tolerant to heat.

One way to avoid dehydration is to save activities and exercise for the coolest times of the day -- morning and evening. If mid-day outdoor activity is necessary on a hot day, be sure to take frequent breaks in the shade and always have water with or near you. If you feel like you might be starting to overheat, place a cold towel on your wrists, forehead and behind your knees.

While carrying around washcloths and towels may not be convenient for many people, technological advances now make it possible to carry you own personal, portable cooling system. One of these innovations is called the Misty Mate, a two-pound ergonomic day pack that can immediately cool the air around you. This is accomplished by using pressurized water forced through specialized nozzles that create very small droplets of water. These droplets are so small that they instantly flash evaporate cooling the air as much as 30 F (15C) under dry conditions. In humid conditions, all you need to add are ice cubes. This icy cold mist is highly effective for conductive cooling, which is the cooling effect of the frigid mist in contact with the exposed areas of the skin surface known as misting.

In addition to hydration and misting, nutrition can play a large part in staying healthy in the summer heat. Eating light meals will help maintain your energy level and not bog you down the way heavy, rich meals can. When the sun heats up, increase the amount of potassium in your diet. Perspiration tends to first deplete the body of this nutrient, so after checking with your doctor, stock up on potassium-rich foods like apricots, bananas, cantaloupes, beans, broccoli and potatoes.

Be careful not to eat too much protein, which can increase your body's heat production. Although drinking a cold beer or margarita might hit the spot on a hot day, consuming large amounts of alcohol and caffeine can actually deplete the body of water. Fruit juices and milk can help rehydrate your body, but water is the best fluid to consume in order to stay hydrated.

One more way to stay cool when it heats up is to wear minimal clothing. This provides a greater skin surface area for the heat to dissipate. Cotton is the best fabric to wear on steamy days because it allows your skin to breath. Stay away from tight-fitting clothes and dark colored fabrics, which only absorb the sun's hot rays.

No one wants to end up sitting indoors all summer, but when the thermometer reaches 85 degrees or above, be smart while enjoying the sun by taking a few, easy precautions.

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