Summer's just about to launch but hot weather made an early start this year. For most, it's an inconvenience, but for others it can be deadly. Here are some practical and fun ways to beat the heat — for children, adults, the elderly and pets.
• Cover up. Look at photographs of people in hot climates around the world and they're not wearing halter tops and shorts, they're swathed in long, loose fabric from head to toe. Right now, that's in style here too (at least for women).
Darker colors are more effective at keeping rays out. Fabrics with tight weaves leave fewer opportunities for sunlight to reach the skin and are more effective over the long haul as they maintain their shape well after washing.
There's a whole new fashion niche in sun-protective clothing. Nylon, polyester and tightly woven cotton blends are often used and fabrics can also be infused with chemicals to maximize their protective qualities. Sun-protective clothing must carry a UPF rating, ultraviolet protection factor, of at least 15; most carry a UPF of 50, which the Skin Cancer Foundation deems "excellent protection." For example, a fabric with a rating of 50 allows only 1/50 of the sun's UV rays to pass through. One easy test is to hold the fabric up to the light to see if the light passes through; a white T-shirt offers minimal protection whereas a long-sleeved denim shirt offers total protection.
For total body protection, don't forget hats, preferably with a 3-inch brim or wider, and shades with lenses that protect against both UVA and UVB rays. And if your skin's exposed, apply a minimum SP15 sunscreen every couple of hours.
The same cover-up advice goes for babies: Keep them covered in loose clothing, add a floppy hat when outside, and keep those younger than 6 months out of direct sun at all times.
Eat spicy foods — or icy foods! That's right, hot spicy foods, staples of equatorial zones around the world, actually help the diner to cope with hot weather by making him or her sweat which serves to reduce body temperature. At least, that's what they say! So, if that's the food you like — curries and pepper-laden sauces — then go for it. The chemical capsaicin is the trigger that sets off the "pain" or thermal reaction.
Menthol acts in much the same way as capsaicin, but it stimulates the receptors that register cold temperatures, not those that respond to warmth. Think Vick's vapor rub, mints and the like — menthol gives the same cooling sensation whether inhaled, eaten or applied to the skin. Neither capsaicin nor menthol changes the actual temperature, just its perception.
If you're going for cold foods, choose icy over creamy for the most effective cooling properties. That means iced coffee without milk; popsicles rather than ice-cream sandwiches; slushies with blended fruit and ice rather than yogurt. Jazz up ice cubes by making them from fruit juice. Eat salads with leafy greens, citrus fruits and water-filled veggies like cucumbers.
• Water, water everywhere. Drink lots of water, even more than usual; if you don't like tap water, treat yourself to sparkling bottled water. Remember that coffee, tea and alcohol all contribute to dehydration.
Babies need to increase their fluid intake by 50 percent during hot weather. Children get overheated quicker than adults and take longer to cool down, so it's essential for them to stay hydrated.
Don't forget that pets need access to plentiful clean water all day long. If outdoors, they should also have access to a shady area throughout the day.
A sprinkler can serve double duty, watering the lawn at the same time as allowing children to lower their body temperature.
A cool bath can serve the same purpose for the elderly or a dip in a pool, followed by drying off in the shade. (Be sure to exercise caution and supervise children where water is involved.)
• Don't go outdoors in the heat of the day if you can avoid it. Seek out shade or visit an air-conditioned building, such as a movie theater, mall, community or rec center, or a library. Check with the Peninsula Agency on Aging (873-0541) for a fan or air conditioner for seniors who qualify for the Dominion Virginia Power-sponsored Fan Care program.
Never, never leave a person or pet in a car in high temperatures. And, indoors, draw the blinds or curtains to maintain a cooler environment. Cool off in a shower or tub if it becomes too stuffy. Recognize the symptoms of heat stress: dehydration, cramps, nausea, headaches and dizziness. Heat stroke may be characterized by hot, dry skin, a high temperature and confusion — call 911 if necessary.
Be sure to check the temperature of a stroller or car seat before strapping a baby in; their covers and metal parts can get very hot in a matter of minutes. Never, ever, leave a child or pet unattended in a car in hot weather.
• Watch a hot movie — or a cool one! If you can't get to a cool, darkened movie theater, then hunker down with a rented DVD (or a free one from the library.)
Using the same principle as with food, choose your movies for burning hot or icy cold scenes. "Body Heat," the 1981 murder mystery starring William Hurt and Kathleen Turner in the middle of a super-hot Florida summer radiates heat on every front. Then there's Alfred Hitchcock's "Rear Window," released in 1954, with stars James Stewart and Grace Kelly adding their own heat to the plot.
Don't be fooled by the title, "Some Like it Hot," a Billy Wilder film featuring Marilyn Monroe. The opening scenes are set in a chilly February in Chicago. For a real taste of the frozen North, see if you can find a copy of "Nanook of the North: A Story of Life and Love in the Arctic," a 1922 silent documentary filmed by Robert J. Flaherty in the Canadian Arctic.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun