"The groundwork of all happiness is health." - Leigh Hunt

Keep a cool head in extreme heat and power outages

July 7, 2023 – Power outages, or blackouts, have increased significantly in frequency in recent times, putting tens of millions of Americans vulnerable to health-related illness and death. This is particularly true in the course of the summer months when extreme weather events (including heat waves, hurricanes, tornadoes and wildfires) converge, maximizing demand for electricity. Over the past decade, outages have greater than doubled nationwide, increasing a whopping 151% between 2015-2016 and 2020-2021, in keeping with the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

With record heat and smoke spreading across the country, this summer is predicted to be one in every of the most well liked on record, not to say posing major challenges to already fragile power grids. So what should people do when the facility is out, air conditioners and fans are breaking, and the warmth is relentless, except for the same old suggestions like staying hydrated or putting ice in front of a fan to blow cool air?

Mike Tipton, PhD, professor of human and applied physiology on the Extreme Environments Laboratory on the University of Portsmouth in Hampshire, UK, has spent a long time advising the military, industry and elite athletes on strategies for staying “cool” in extreme environmental situations. But perhaps one in every of his most significant lessons got here from an unexpected source: the housewives of the Nineteen Seventies.

“Many years ago – probably about 50 – housewives used to say that when they got hot while gardening or doing other activities outside, they would come in and put their hands under the cold tap,” Tipton explained.

“So when we were looking for something for the Navy firefighters who have to go into very hot spaces and wear a lot of protective gear, we started with how the body works. And we found that putting their hands in cold water was just as effective as anything else we could do for them.”

Before things get uncontrolled…

Peripheral blood flow – how and where blood is transported throughout the body – is essentially determined by deep body temperature. When it gets hot outside the body, the brain tells blood vessels to redirect blood flow to the skin to assist sweating and evaporation, ensuring the body's core or deep temperature stays optimal.

“The hands are very good heat exchangers because they have a high surface area to mass ratio,” Tipton said. “Immersing your hands is a really good way to cool your body.”

Immersing your hands in cold water for just 20 minutes is a superb option to self-regulate your body temperature and one which is simple to do so long as a water supply is accessible.

Instead of dipping your hands in cold water, you can even hold a chilly drink. Fortunately, each strategies are self-regulating. “If it starts to feel cold, you've probably chilled enough,” he said.

Get your feet wet

Who would have thought that one of the common phrases within the English language – “get one's feet wet” – could actually be a great tool in extreme heat?

Colleen Scott, a native of Washington, D.C., said foot soaks have long been her “go-to” in the course of the city’s relentless summers.

“I'm a big fan of mini showers where you wash your feet,” Scott said. “Cooling down my feet and ankles and getting the blood flowing down there actually helps lower the body temperature.”

Tipton noted that while hands are higher, feet may also help the body cool its core. He cautioned, nevertheless, that with all of those approaches, water temperature is essential. Avoid ice baths and ice soaks and go for cold as a substitute.

“The same goes for showering,” he said. “A shower to cool down before bed is a good idea. But the shower should not be ice cold; a lukewarm shower is much more effective at removing heat from the body.”

Expose all the things

When temperatures are unbearable, clothing can develop into just as unbearable. In fact, clothing can hinder the body's evaporation and cooling processes.

“Clothing acts as a barrier against heat loss during physical exertion,” says Tipton, citing soldiers as a primary example.

“If you [think] In the military, they wear protective clothing and additional loads, which increases and hinders their metabolism and heat production. In this situation, various heat illnesses can occur very quickly. [some which are] a medical emergency.”

Sara Andrabi, MD, assistant professor of emergency medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and associate medical director at Ben Taub Hospital Emergency Center in Houston, has also seen numerous heat-related illnesses and offers some general tips.

“Some air circulation is essential,” she said, “so I at all times tell people to take off tight or heavy clothing after which put cool compresses on their skin.”

This advice also applies to sportswear, which, as Andrabi noted, prevents the body from sweating and cooling down.

“Wear loose cotton clothes,” she said.

Or, if circumstances allow, take everything off and sit around in the nude.

Chill out

Many people are unaware that even simple tasks, such as cooking meals without adequate ventilation, can increase the body's energy expenditure.

“There are certain situations that you just wouldn't think could lead on to overheating, and people aren't the standard things that individuals take into consideration,” Andrabi explained. “However, more passive activities can definitely make you more prone to heat-related illness.”

When it's hellishly hot and the electricity is out, rest becomes more important. This is a major reason why many people in Mediterranean countries take a siesta at midday, when the sun is at its highest and hottest.

Tipton advised that it is also important to try to create natural convection or air movement.

“If you need to create a cushty indoor climate, you may have to try to stop heat from entering the home,” he said. “Provide as much air movement as possible, especially early within the morning when the air temperature is comparatively low. Open certain windows and leave doors open to create a draft.”

However, if it gets too hot, anything is possible.

Tipton also echoed Andrabi's point about food preparation, but in the context of working electricity and lack of refrigeration. In these cases, people may opt for simple, uncooked light meals rather than firing up the stove, which can generate a lot of heat.

Fans vs. Fanning

Did you know that hand fans were originally used in Asia over 2,000 years ago to keep out heat and insects?

Over time, they were adopted as fashion accessories by Victorian fashionistas. Today, you might catch a menopausal woman pulling out a fan during a hot flush. But beware, fan! Fanning may not achieve the ultimate goal of lowering your body temperature.

“The handiest thing about blowing air over the body shouldn’t be the temperature of the air, however the proven fact that it promotes evaporation,” Tipton explained. “If you give someone a fan, [likely] Fan air into their faces – we now have many receptors on our faces. But [while] They'll be far more comfortable, they're probably not doing much by way of changing the body temperature inside.”