Keep Your Cool This Summer

Keeping your cool means staying calm through tense, angry, or chaotic situations, and it’s one key to a healthy heart.

But what if it’s 90 degrees outside? Summer heat and humidity might make you feel a little cranky, but what does the hot weather mean for your heart?

It turns out that keeping your cool is important both emotionally and physically. Your body manages its temperature a couple of different ways. The heart pumps more blood to the skin surface where it can radiate off extra heat, but it must work extra hard to pump that blood further and faster than normal to keep your insides cooler.

Your other temperature control mechanism is sweating. As sweat evaporates, it cools you down. This works well on dry days, but not as well when humidity starts hitting 75%. While sweating doesn’t make your heart pump harder, it does affect the balance of minerals and water in the body, which can in turn affect your heart. Too little potassium, for example, can cause irregular heartbeats.

If you are older, have had heart or other cardiovascular trouble in the past, are a large person, or are taking certain medications, you may be more prone to heat stress. Even young, healthy, fit individuals should use caution in very hot weather. When it gets really hot, a few simple actions can help to keep heat from overstressing your heart and spoiling your summer.

First, take it easy. Put off outside work or exercise until things cool down, or just wait for a cooler day.

The best way to beat the heat is cooled air. Fans help, but only to a point. If you don’t have an air conditioner, spending an hour or two in a movie theater, at a store, a library, or with an air-conditioned neighbor can help. So can a cool shower or bath, or putting cold, wet washcloths or ice packs under your arms.

Drink plenty of water. On dangerously hot and humid days, try downing a glass of water every hour, unless your doctor has told you to limit fluids. Go easy on sugary drinks and don’t count on caffeinated beverages or alcohol for fluid because they can cause dehydration.

Finally, eat light. Smaller meals like soups, salads, and fruits can satisfy your hunger and give you extra fluid.

Heat-related illnesses are serious conditions. Watch for signs like chills, nausea or vomiting, fatigue, headache, disorientation or confusion. If you think you are having heat-related problems, or if you see signs of them in someone else, getting to an air-conditioned space and drinking cool water are the most important things to do. If these don’t help or the symptoms persist, seek medical care. Let’s all be safe and enjoy our warm summer months.

Information gathered for this article came from the Centers for Disease Control and WebMD. CHQ 250 is an initiative of the Chautauqua Health Action Team (CHAT), encouraging you to take action to be one of at least 250 strokes, heart attacks, or related deaths prevented in Chautauqua County in the coming year. This column is written by CHAT members to share information to help you to do your part to live a life free of stroke or heart disease; it is not intended to replace advice provided by your healthcare team. Please direct questions or comments to: activecounty@co.chautauqua.ny.us.

COMMENTS