States on both coasts of the US have been under excessive heat warnings or heat advisories over the past few days—and it seems the temperatures won’t be letting up anytime soon.
On Wednesday, the New York Times reported that the National Weather Service (NWS) issued a warning for “dangerously hot conditions” for Washington state and Oregon on the west coast, as well as for cities in the Northeast, extending from Boston to Philadelphia.
These excessive heat warnings (aka, when the heat and humidity outside can make it feel extremely hot—sometimes above 105 degrees Fahrenheit or hotter) can be extremely detrimental—deadly, even—to many people, particularly senior citizens, those with chronic health problems, or mental health conditions, the NWS says. Even for those who are otherwise healthy, extreme heat can lead to severe illness, especially in people who regularly work outside.
In order to stay cool and healthy if you’re in one of the affected areas, we tapped experts for their best tips on how to beat the heat right now. Here’s what to know.
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Stay in the shade
This may sound like a no-brainer, but staying out of direct sunlight is one of the best ways to beat the heat. According to the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration, a location that’s bathed in direct sunlight can have a heat index value up to 15 degrees higher than a shaded spot nearby in the shade. If you’re at home, keep your shades closed to avoid letting in any unnecessary sun.
If you must be outside, apply sunscreen generously to avoid sunburn (which can affect your body’s abilities to cool itself), and bring a parasol or umbrella if possible for portable shade. You should also opt for light clothing—both in color and fabric—to decrease heat absorption, Peter Shearer, MD, Chief Medical Officer at Mount Sinai Brooklyn, previously told Health.
Wear loose clothing
This one has a more scientific explanation: When the body gets too hot, one way it can cool down is through a process known as convection—this happens when air or water flow over heated skin, transferring that heat away from the body.
That’s why loose clothing is your friend during hot days: It gives cooler air more access to your skin to help regulate your body temperature. “If someone is overheating, you can loosen their clothing—make sure nothing’s too restrictive, or remove items they don’t need,” Dr. Shearer previously told Health. If your skin is already exposed enough, sit in front of a fan or air conditioner to help speed up the process.
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Another no-brainer here: Keep the fluids coming on hot days—and make them cold. Water is usually your best option, but you can also opt for sports drinks that contain electrolytes to replenish the ones that you lose via sweating, Mark Pappadakis, DO, a New Jersey-based emergency medicine physician at Capital Health Regional Medical Center in Trenton, tells Health.
One thing to keep in mind, though: Avoid caffeinated drinks like coffee or tea or sugary drinks like soda on a hot day, since they can actually dehydrate you.
Apply cool water to the skin
Just like drinking cool water is good for you during hot weather, so is exposing your skin to it. “The best way to [stay cool] is to actually spray [yourself] with water,” says Dr. Pappadakis.
While you might think that hopping into a pool or taking a cold shower is your best bet here, you can also enlist the help of a cooling fan that sprays water, or a regular spray bottle to gently wet the skin. Even if you’re not sweating yet, Dr. Pappadakis says a simple spritz of cold water can help evaporate some of the heat off of your body.
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Don’t overexert yourself
Here’s a pretty hard-and-fast rule: Avoid exercising outside in extreme heat, since any exercise at all naturally raises your body temperature (not what you want when it’s already extremely hot outside). Instead, stick to indoor workouts in a well-ventilated area with air conditioning.
If you absolutely must go on an outside run or bike ride, do it early in the morning or (if you can safely) in the evening hours to make it more tolerable, Mark Conroy, MD, an emergency medicine physician at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells Health.
But if you are working out outside and start to feel ill, take a break immediately. “If you start to feel nauseous or even lightheaded, just stop what you’re doing,” says Dr. Pappadakis. “Rest, find somewhere shady, and drink fluids. Don’t push yourself too hard.”
Don’t over-cool your home
Contrary to popular belief—and to what many of you probably are doing right now—it’s not the best idea to crank the AC and make it as cold as possible in your house. “If you are spending the day in an AC-controlled 66 degrees, walking outside into 90-degree temperature will feel much hotter,” says Dr. Shearer.
Instead, keep it a tiny bit warmer in your house, just in case you do have to venture outside. “Most experts recommend keeping the thermostat between 74-78 degrees Fahrenheit,” says Dr. Shearer. “Better to start at 78 and see how you feel, and then lower it if needed.”
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No AC? Find a local cooling center
Let’s remember that having air conditioning in your home is a luxury that many people still can’t afford. But that doesn’t mean you also have to suffer through a heat wave—you just have to know what resources are available to you and how or when to use them.
This is where cooling centers come into play—they’re air-conditioned public facilities open and available to those who are experiencing discomfort from excessive heat. (Some in Portland are even operating 24 hours a day right now, according to The Oregonian.) City and state websites—like New York City’s Cooling Center Finder—will usually have information on where to find these designated spaces.
If you can’t find a cooling center near you though, even a community pool is a better option than staying home without cold air, says Dr. Pappadakis. Movie theaters, grocery stores, or even an extended Target run can also help, depending on your state and local COVID-19 guidelines.
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