In the past few weeks, both Europe and North America have been swept by a massive heat wave — and experts are predicting this heat to stick around for a bit longer. While many of us enjoy lounging and relaxing in the dog days of summer, August is looking to be a bit of a scorcher. And that heat can have some surprising effects on our mental health, physical health, and immune system. Here’s what you need to know about the health effects of summer heat, and how you can enjoy the sunny summer while staying fresh, cool, and healthy!
Summer Heat: The Effects of Heat on Your Mind and Body
Summer temperatures negatively influence your immune system in more ways than one. One study recently looked at the effects of summer heat on your lymphocyte and monocyte cells (two types of white blood cells that are important for fighting off infection). The researchers compared white blood cell counts in the summer compared to the rest of the year. The results were clear:
- As your core body temperature rises in the summer heat, your white blood cell count drops
- People who make efforts to cool their body down see their white blood cell counts balance out and improve
“In summary, working and living in hot conditions impact on markers of immune function,” concluded the study. “However by self-regulating energy expenditure, immune markers remained in a healthy reference range.”
This may also be why people with autoimmune disorders often experience flare-ups during the summer heat.
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The summer heat also has some additional specific impacts on your immune system:
- Your immune system is less able to fight specific types of viruses when it’s hot outside, such as the influenza virus (the virus responsible for the common flu)
- High summer heat often makes it hard to sleep, and lack of sleep compromises your immune system
- Poor summer air quality, in part due to lack of rain and the way that hot air “traps” pollutant particles closer to the ground, can compromise your immune system and also your respiratory system
That’s in addition to the general health problems related to high temperatures around the world. According to the WHO, “rapid rises in heat gain due to exposure to hotter than average conditions compromises the body’s ability to regulate temperature and can result in a cascade of illnesses, including heat cramps, heat exhaustion, heatstroke, and hyperthermia. […] Even small differences from seasonal average temperatures are associated with increased illness and death. Temperature extremes can also worsen chronic conditions, including cardiovascular, respiratory, and cerebrovascular disease and diabetes-related conditions.”
Here’s what you can do about it.
How to Stay Fresh and Cool in the Summer Heat
1. Stay Hydrated
It’s more important than ever to drink up, and to cut out dehydrating beverages like alcohol or highly caffeinated drinks. Click here to learn more about our best hydration tips and strategies.
2. Watch the Sun
Avoid getting too baked this summer by:
- Opening your windows and blinds during the cooler evenings, then keeping all doors and windows and blinds down during the day to help keep that cooler air in your house.
- Avoiding going in the sun between the hours of 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., which is often when the sun’s rays are at their strongest.
- Wear loose, breathable clothing in brighter shades that help reflect the sun’s light and keeps you cool.
3. Refrigerate Your Bedding
Cooler temperatures help you sleep at night. Consider storing your sheets in the fridge to keep them at a nice, refreshing temperature. And keep air moving in your bedroom with a gentle fan — it keeps you cool and the white noise can also help you to sleep better (thus restoring your immune system).
4. Curate Your Diet
High fat and high salt containing foods can raise your core body temperature and cause you to lose precious hydration. Stick with refreshing, cool meals in August and eat your way to a cooler summer.
Hot summer temperatures can be a challenge for your general health, chronic conditions and your immune function. Why not try out some of our tips for cooling off to forge a healthier and more comfortable way through these August days?!