Summer is here and temperatures are soaring. Excessive heat can not only be uncomfortable; it can also be dangerous -- even deadly.
When the temperature rises, our bodies can quickly become dehydrated. Drinking plenty of fluids -- especially water -- is important. The human body is about two-thirds water.
Dehydration occurs when a person loses more water than he takes in -- by sweating, for example. Playing outdoors, working in the heat or just being in a warmer temperature increases the need for more water.
Older adults, as well as young children, are at high risk of heat-related illness. For aging adults, the body's cooling mechanisms may become impaired. Existing health conditions such as chronic illness, poor circulation and obesity also increase a person's risk.
Certain medications may make people more susceptible. Factor in the high humidity we often experience in Kansas, and summertime temperatures can turn deadly.
The body normally cools itself by perspiring. But when the humidity is high, perspiration will not evaporate as quickly, preventing the body from releasing heat quickly. Summertime activity should be balanced with measures that help the body cool itself.
When temperatures rise, drink more fluids, regardless of your activity level. Water is essential for the body as it is in every cell, tissue and organ. Drinking eight to 12 cups of fluid a day is recommended under normal circumstances to replenish essential body fluids.
When temperatures and humidity rise, more may be needed. Don't wait until you feel thirsty to drink. By the time you feel thirsty, you may be well on the way to being dehydrated. The ability to sense thirst declines over the years, leaving older adults unable to rely on their thirst to prompt them to drink enough fluids.
Water is recommended for the majority of the fluid replacement because it is readily absorbed. Cool water is preferred as it is absorbed more readily than warm, hot or ice water.
Beverages that contain caffeine, including coffee, tea and some soft drinks, or alcohol act as a diuretic that speeds fluid loss, so these drinks are not recommended for fluid replacement.
Other good sources of fluids include milk, 100 percent fruit juice and foods which have a high water content, such as melons or tomatoes. Sports beverages may be helpful for athletes who are exercising more than one hour and are in need of lost electrolytes and quick energy.
Other tips for staying safe during hot weather include limiting outside hours during extreme heat. Wear loose-fitting clothing and natural fibers, such as cotton, which can be cooler than synthetics. Light-colored clothing will reflect, rather than absorb, the heat. Always wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunscreen when outdoors.
Stay indoors, and if at all possible, stay in an air-conditioned place. If your home does not have air conditioning, try to find a public place where you can cool off. Even a few hours spent in air conditioning can help your body stay cooler when you go back into the heat.
Electric fans may provide comfort, but when the temperature is in the high 90s, fans will not prevent heat-related illness. Taking a cool shower or bath, or moving to an air-conditioned place is a much better way to cool off.
More information on nutrition and health topics is available online at www.ksre.ksu.edu/humannutrition or at your local extension office or contact me.