There are lots of ways to keep cool during the scorching summer that are both healthy and planet-friendly. [Photo: Bigstock]

Simple ways to keep cool in the heat of summer

16 August, 2013

Here’s the dilemma: the world is getting hotter because of man-made climate change. This summer we’ve seen extreme heatwave in cities across the world and a concurrent effect on health.

As temperatures soar you could just flip on the air conditioner – if you are lucky enough to have it. But this is an energy intensive way to keep cool that only adds to a cycle of environmental destruction and accelerating climate change.

In very hot climates air conditioning can make some difference – lowering the risk of heat related illnesses for some. But life in an air conditioned bubble also takes its toll on our health, greatly interfering with our bodies’ ability to adapt to outdoor temperatures once we venture out. In both summer and winter, the transition from a controlled climate indoors to the real one outdoors may mean an abrupt change in temperature of 10º C or more. This abrupt change may negate any positive effects of time spent indoors in climate-controlled environments.

When the positive is negative

In addition cool (or hot) air forced through the duct work of most central heating and air-conditioning systems also sets up friction that results in an overabundance of positive ions – unstable electrically charged particles – over negative ones. It can also increase indoor air pollution.

A relative overbalance of positive ions can alter the body’s biochemistry affecting both physical and mental well being. High levels of positive ions are associated with depression, nausea, insomnia, irritability, lassitude, migraine and asthma attacks, as well as disturbances in the normal function of the thyroid gland. The biochemical processes that lead to these disorders can eventually leave the body exhausted and this, in turn, can lead to an increase in accidents, violent crime and suicides.

So what do you do if you want to keep cool in a healthy way? Here are our suggestions for some healthier, more planet-friendly methods to combat the heat.

A cold water quickie

During a heatwave, the body cools itself by increasing blood flow to the skin. Sending more blood to the small veins and capillaries near the surface of the skin to helps it cool down more quickly.  In hot weather, blood flow to the skin may increase by 3 times for healthy people.

Take advantage of this phenomenon by plunging your hands into a basin of cold water – or soaking your feet in a bucket of cold water. Hands and feet have a high surface area and the cold water will help this cooling process along significantly.

Don’t forget to spritz

This could be as simple as a small spray bottle filled with water that you keep by your bedside or in your purse. A quick spritz has the same cooling effect as wearing wet clothes. You can invest in a store bought water spray but making your own, for instance from a small travel spray bottle  is cleaner and greener since you don’t have to recycle the can and there will be no aerosol propellants to worry about. Just fill it with tap water – or mineral water if you prefer – and go.

But to make the spritz more interesting, and add benefits for your skin, why not try an essential oil-infused facial mist. You can buy them or make your own – here’s our recipe for a lavish orange flower water infused facial mist.

Stay hydrated

Up to 60% of the human body is water, and only about 10% of this water is in the bloodstream. A lot of the water in the bloodstream can be lost through sweating. In dry weather, sweat evaporates quickly, so only a small amount of sweat is needed to lower body temperature. But in humid conditions, sweat takes longer to evaporate from the skin because the air already contains a lot of water. So, in these humid conditions, the body tries to cool itself by sweating even more. If you do not replenish the water that your body loses, you will become dehydrated. The best drink for hydration is water with no flavours, colours, sugars, additives – or alcohol! When you need a it of flavour consider healthy herbal iced teas instead of soft drinks.

Wet t-shirts – and sheets

The key to keeping cool is evaporation. In extreme temperatures wearing wet clothes helps draw heat from your body which produces a cooling effect to your skin, helping to lower your temperature.

Combined with a fan, the air blowing over your skin speeds up the process of evaporation, helping you to feel even cooler.

On very hot nights consider a wet top sheet on your bed instead of a blanket. It could make the difference between a sticky sleepless night and comfortable one.

A strategy for fans and curtains

If it’s really hot outside or the air is too humid to promote effective evaporation use an electric fan, or ceiling fan to speed up the evaporation of your sweat to help keep you cool.

A fan placed in the middle of the room may just circulate the warm air that’s already there. If you can place fans near an open window (assuming the air outside is cooler than the air inside) this will help send cool air into the room. To combat the way that electrical fans create more positive ions – and therefore undesirable effects on mood – some now come with switches that turn on a negative ion generator.

Remember also to clean the blades of your fan regularly so you aren’t just blowing dust around. And while it may sound obvious, draw curtains and blinds on windows that get a lot of sun. This will help keep the room cooler. Once the sun is less intense you can open them again.

Spice up your life

Spicy foods make you sweat, which in turn helps you cool down faster. That may be one reason why people who live in Central and South America, India, Africa, Southeast Asia and the Caribbean favour foods flavoured with chillies and spices.

Eating spicy food like salsas, mustards and curries raises your core temperature to match the temperature outside. Your blood circulation increases, you sweat more and the evaporation of that sweat helps keep you cool. This process even has a name “gustatory facial sweating,” because spicy foods usually make your face sweat first.

In hot climates spicy foods may also help kill food pathogens that can cause upset tummies – good news given the recently discovered link between a changing climate and infectious gastrointestinal disease.

Have a hot drink

The same basic principle behind spicy foods also applies to hot and cold drinks. It is very important to stay hydrated when the sun is out, and for a quick cooling effect in scorching conditions an iced coffee may seem tempting. But save it for earlier or later in the day when things are a bit cooler.  In fact, research shows a hot coffee may well help you cool down more quickly since it actually increases the rate at which you sweat, which can help cool you off.

Take it slow

Rushing around or exercising vigorously in hot and humid weather can be challenging and even dangerous. Try to schedule gym sessions, meetings across town, and/or runs in the park for earlier or later in the day. Try to keep stress levels low by paying attention to the basics of stress-relief.

Wear loose clothing

Tight clothing is not only uncomfortable it prevents air getting to your skin. Wearing looser clothes will keep the air circulating around you skin, helping the evaporation process along. Try wearing lighter coloured clothes which will reflect rather than absorb the sun’s light and remember natural fibres absorb more moisture than synthetic fibres and are, therefore, generally more comfortable to wear. Thinner fabrics can also assist more efficient evaporation

Tepid bath

Your instincts may be to take a freezing cold shower but many experts recommend something less extreme. A very cold shower of bath will lower your body temperature so quickly that the body will scramble to raise it again to regain homoeostasis, or balance.

So instead try a tepid or lukewarm bath or shower and if you can air dry rather than towel dry to help gently cool yourself down afterwards. Making good use of your local swimming pool – if it is an outdoor pool so much the better – is a good way to combine water, air and gentle exercise in a way that can help keep you cool.

Carry a fan

In extreme heat invest in a hand fan that you can pull out of your bag any time you need it. It’s more elegant than a plastic one and more environmentally friendly too since it won’t require batteries. Just make a common mistake of fanning yourself too vigorously, for too long, since the effort could make you hotter.