HEAT AND HEALTH

Outdoor Cooling
for Health and
Well-being

Keeping cool is much more than a matter of comfort. It’s also a matter of health, mental, and emotional well-being.

We often think of keeping cool outdoors as a matter of comfort, even luxury, and forget the importance of being cool to physical and mental health. But getting overheated can cause dehydration and heat stress — heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and even heat stroke. It can contribute to depression and irritability, a higher risk of judgement errors and injuries. It can also make existing illnesses worse.

Heat, Health, and Outdoor Cooling

When heat stress occurs – physical or mental – the most important thing to do is to cool down the body. Outdoor cooling can help prevent the effects of the heat in the first place by offering a cool place to rest and escape the heat.

Any outdoor cooling solution will help. Simple outdoor shades are great because the shade gets you out of a main source of heat — the sun. Outdoor fans can help cool our bodies, especially when combined with shade and / or evaporative cooling by swamp coolers, misting fans, or misting systems.

When the more serious stages of a heat illness strike, use the extra cooling power of a portable air conditioner. In fact, air conditioning is the number one protective factor against heat-related illness, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Important Ways to Prevent Heat Stress:

  • Drink plenty of cool non-alcoholic and non-caffeine liquids. Drinks with caffeine and alcohol work against cooling the body because they actually dehydrate us.
  • Slow down. Find a cool spot to take regular breaks. If you start to feel weak or nauseous take a break. Spray some cool water on your skin or apply cool wet cloths to your skin.

Young children, those over 65, and those who are ill or overweight are the most at risk for heat stroke and heat stress. Keep an eye especially on them for these signs of heat-related illnesses.

Signs of Heat Stress and How to Treat Them

Muscle cramps are one of the first stages of heat stress.

  • Get that person to a cool spot.
  • Gently stretch and massage the cramped muscles and have them sip some cool water.
  • If they start feeling better it may be ok to go back to what they were doing, but be more careful to take cooling breaks and drink plenty of water.
  • If they have health issues, have them contact their doctor for next steps.

The signs of heat exhaustion – a more serious stage of heat stress – include headache, dizziness, nausea and moist, pale skin. Individuals may need to contact their doctor. General advice is to

  • Get the person to a cooler place in the shade right away and have them rest for awhile.
  • Have them sip slowly on some cool water — about half a glass every 15 minutes. Apply cool, wet cloths to the skin.
  • No one should be alone when they feel like this. Be prepared to call 911 or a local emergency number in case they vomit or lose consciousness.

The worst stage of heat stress is called heat stroke, sun stroke or “sunstroke”. It is life-threatening. It can strike anyone suddenly. From athletes, to construction workers, to home gardeners to someone simply walking in the park.

  • Signs include vomiting, high body temperature, rapid pulse and rapid shallow breathing. A high body temperature may be accompanied by hot, red skin. Most dangerous, especially if alone, is decreased alertness, confusion or loss of consciousness.
  • Call 911 or a local emergency number immediately if you have or if you see anyone with these symptoms of heat stroke. Move them to a cooler place and cool them down quickly. Get them to a shady area or cool them with fans. Better still, get them quickly to an air conditioned area if possible. Contact their doctor.
  • In the meantime apply cool — not cold — cloths directly to the skin to lower the body’s temperature. Cold water, cold cloths or cold packs can cause shivering which raises body temperature and is the opposite of what you’re trying to do. Have them lie down and rest and keep them cool until help comes.

Keep any eye on those you care about. Give them something cool to drink. Give them cool places to rest and relax. Learn more about how to do that on this site, especially our in-depth articles on the various outdoor cooling solutions.

For more information, go to the official Web site of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This link takes you directly to their page on heat stroke and other heat-related illnesses.

You can be assured the cool place you create will be valuable for health as well as comfort.