Your Reading List

Avoid falling to the heat

An unseasonably warm later summer and early fall means you’ll need to stay vigilant

When the sun beats down and the mercury spikes, take precautions no matter the season.

I can’t handle hot weather.

While some people are basking in the heat, my face turns bright red almost immediately. My kids pretend they don’t know me.

Then I wilt in the shade and retreat indoors.

Recently, we had a heat wave that sent temperatures soaring near or above 100 F (38 C) in some areas. I happened to be on the road doing workshops, which involved loading and unloading hundreds of pounds of materials from my vehicle.

I survived without suffering a heat stroke, but I felt like a worn-out dishrag when I arrived home. Unfortunately, the air conditioning unit in the van I was driving couldn’t keep up with the outside heat.

After cooling down at home, I called a relative and visited about our mutual intolerance to high temperatures.

“We’re not built for hot weather,” he said. “It’s not in our genes.”

Maybe he had something there. About a year ago, I did a DNA test to find out my genetic origins. I learned that most of my ancestors emigrated about 150 years ago from an area of Norway that historically reached a maximum temperature of 68 F in the summer and -10 F in the winter. My relatives settled in the cool climates of Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Well, there you go. My body thinks it’s in Norway.

Researchers have shown that humans adapt or “acclimatize” to cold or heat during long periods of time. In fact, 70 F (21 C) seems to be the “perfect” temperature for the human body. Perhaps down the road, we will know a little more about the genetics of the human body related to heat and cold adaptations.

In the meantime, I am just thankful for air conditioning. We all need to take steps to stay cool and hydrated, and protect our skin in the sunny, hot days. That’s even more important when we have unseasonable warm spells like this late-summer blast, or a fall heat wave.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 700 people die every year due to heat-related illnesses. People most at risk are infants and young children, older adults and people on certain kinds of medications.

In a worst case, you can go beyond overheating and suffer a heat stroke as a result of overexertion in hot, humid weather. Heat stroke can result in unconsciousness, hallucinations, confusion, coma and, potentially, death. Your heart, liver or kidneys can suffer permanent damage.

Stay inside an air-conditioned space when the weather is very hot (often between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.) or take regular breaks insidea cool location. A cool bath, shower or sprinkler can bring down your temperature quickly.

Pay attention to your thirst, too. In most cases, the best hydrating fluid is plain, cold water, but all water in food and beverages counts toward hydration.

If you are a parent of young children, remember that they can’t always tell you they are thirsty, so provide fluid regularly.

Protect and examine your skin in all seasons. Skin cancer is the uncontrolled growth of skin cells due to DNA damage. Basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma are the most common and highly curable types of skin cancer. A third type, melanoma, causes themost deaths.

Skin cancer is the most common malignancy in the world. Factors such as skin type, previous history, tanning bed use, unprotected sun exposure, smoking and poor diet all contribute to increased risk.

According to one study, skin self-checks may decrease mortality from melanoma by 63 per cent because doctors do not routinely check for skin abnormalities.

Ask yourself these questions: Have any spots on your skin changed in colour, size or texture? Are the spots bigger than one-quarter inch (size of a pencil eraser)? Did the spots appear after age 21? Are they pearly, translucent, tan, brown, black or multicoloured? Do you have any skin spots that itch, hurt, bleed or haven’t healed within three weeks?

If you say “yes” to any of the questions, let your health-care provider know.

Sunscreen is vital for helping prevent skin cancer. Check out the sun protection factor (SPF) on sunscreen bottles. Most sources recommend sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.

Be sure to apply plenty of sunscreen (about one ounce per application) and get help as needed to apply sunscreen to your back, for example. Reapply sunscreen every two hours or more often if you are swimming or perspiring.

When you purchase sunscreen, look for an expiration date. If it does not have an expiration date, label the bottle with the date of purchase and use withinthree years.

Here’s a refreshing recipe that’s a tasty way to cool off on a hot day. This was my favourite recipe on a recent testing day in our food lab on the campus of North Dakota State University. See for more information about nutrition and health.

Refreshing grape sorbet

  • 3 c. frozen seedless green grapes
  • 1 tbsp. fresh mint
  • 3 tbsp. honey
  • 2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
  • Pinch of coarse salt

Place grapes in a food processor with mint, honey, lemon juice and salt. Purée. Place in freezer until firm, at least four hours.

Makes four servings. Each serving has 130 calories, 0 grams (g) fat, 1 g protein, 34 g carbohydrate, 1 g fibre and 65 milligrams sodium.

Grape sorbet is a refreshing way to cool off on a hot day. photo: NDSU

About the author


Julie Garden-Robinson is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the department of health, nutrition and exercise sciences.

Julie Garden-Robinson's recent articles



Stories from our other publications