Seven ways to stay safe and cool during extreme heat

Climate change requires us to stay vigilant during hot weather

A photo of an orange sky with a bright sun
PHOTO: Pixabay / Unsplash

By: Saije Rusimovici, Staff Writer

Summer is one of my favourite seasons, but it’s important to remember that while it feels great to spend time outdoors soaking up the sun, it’s necessary to keep yourself cool. It can be a struggle to sleep, work, study, exercise, or even just relax when you feel exhausted from the heat. In certain circumstances, exposure to extreme heat for an extended period of time can lead to health complications such as heat exhaustion, or, in more serious cases, heatstroke. UV rays also pose risks to our health, as prolonged exposure to the sun without protection may cause sunburns, or in more severe circumstances, permanent damage to the skin. It’s also important to consider at-risk populations who may be more susceptible to the negative impacts of overexposure to the sun. People who have chronic diseases or mental illness have a higher risk of being affected by heat-related illnesses. 

Due to climate change, summers are getting longer and hotter. Now more than ever, it’s important to take proactive steps to keep yourself safe when  temperatures inevitably spike. 

  1. Find an air-conditioned space to spend hot afternoons 

It’s incredibly difficult to stay productive and alert when it’s hot out. According to the   CDC, air conditioning is the number one way to protect oneself against heat related illness and death. If you’re like me and your home lacks air conditioning, try finding a public space like a coffee shop or library that has good air circulation. Malls are an excellent option, as they are often well air-conditioned. It’s also worth keeping an eye out for portable air conditioner sales or used options through Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace. The best deals often pop up in fall and through the spring!

2. Stay hydrated 

Drinking lots of water plays a key role in the way your body functions under extreme heat — you may not notice it, but dehydration can significantly affect your focus and performance. When doing outdoor activities or activities in direct sunlight, it’s recommended to drink plenty of water, about eight ounces every 15–20 minutes. With that being said, you should also be careful with your intake of highly caffeinated beverages, such as energy drinks, as they can actually contribute to dehydration. Caffeine has diuretic properties that increase the production of urine, which can impact your hydration levels, and energy drinks might have far more caffeine than a regular cup of coffee. In the same way, it’s recommended to avoid drinking alcohol at least 24 hours before working in extreme heat. 

3. Avoid mid-day outdoor activity when that sun is at its hottest 

Even though it feels great to go outside and soak up the sunshine, there are specific times during the day in which UV rays are particularly harmful. Make sure you are always wearing sunscreen with a high SPF, even if you are not in direct sunlight. Use a local weather app to see when the sun is at its hottest, and avoid scheduling outdoor activities during that time. You can also download a UV index app like SunSmart Global UV. If you are a part of a sports team, schedule practices and games in the morning or late evening when the temperature is cooler. If you must go outside during this window, wear loose-fitting clothing layers that cover your skin, and bring a water bottle with you. 

4. Cool down before bed 

After a long hot day, it’s a good idea to cool down before you go to sleep. If you don’t have air conditioning, this could mean taking a cold shower. If where you sleep is particularly humid, consider sleeping with a cold washcloth on your neck. To limit discomfort from the heat before bed, I like to use my ice roller on my whole body to reduce inflammation and bring down my body temperature. 

5. Find out where your local cooling centres are 

Like air-conditioned spaces, cooling centres are a great way to find temporary relief from the heat. Cooling centres are open to the public and often located at community centres or city libraries. Some of them even allow people to bring their pets! The City of Vancouver has put together a comprehensive list of cooling centres, misting stations, spray parks, and weather-protected plazas. For more information, visit CTV News Vancouver for even more cool zone locations across Metro Vancouver. 

Both SFU’s Vancouver and Surrey campuses are built with air conditioning. Though this isn’t true for much of the Burnaby campus, there are still several places where you can go to cool down. The Student Union Building, Blusson Hall, and West Mall Centre all have air conditioned spaces where you can have a cool study session. For a list of specific locations on campus, visit Safety and Risk Services under Extreme Weather on SFU’s website

6. Eat fresh foods with a high water content 

Instead of warming up your home by turning on the stove or oven, try preparing meals with fresh fruits and vegetables. This not only prevents your kitchen from becoming unnecessarily warm, but will also boost your hydration. Foods that have high water contents such as strawberries, melon, cucumbers, and lettuce are a yummy and healthy way to increase your water intake throughout a hot day. You can even try freezing your fruit to indulge in as a snack.

7. Stay informed 

During periods of extreme heat, one of the most important things you can do is keep updated on how heat is impacting your area. Stay updated regarding wildfires and air quality advisories in your surrounding area — follow government guidelines to stay safe. Since Canada’s new Bill C-18 has blocked some news outlets, make sure you actively seek out updates on weather and wildfires in your area. Be sure to keep an eye out for advice from healthcare professionals and pay attention to trusted news sources for updates. If you are looking for more resources, visit some of these organizations below: 

CDC | Tips for Preventing Heat-Related Illness 
PreparedBC | Extreme Heat Preparedness Guide
Canadian Red Cross | Heat Related Emergencies: Staying Cool and Hydrated in Canadian Summers
The Humane Society of the United States | Keep pets safe in the heat
Cal OES News | Extreme Heat Safety Considerations for People with Access and Functional Needs
SFU | Extreme heat — Work & research safety

Consider following SFU on Twitter or download the SFU Snap app to get updates on severe weather conditions across SFU campuses. 

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