By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.
Respecting heat is a MUST in order to protect your heart. As summer temperatures soar, now is the time to take extra care. If you don’t, you’re asking for trouble.
I learned that first-hand from my elderly patients over the years who indeed got into trouble by exposing themselves to excessive heat. Many of them were golfers, and they would show up at my office in a panic complaining of heart symptoms after playing in 90 degree weather with 90 plus humidity. When I was working in emergency medicine, I saw at least one patient a year who went into cardiac arrest on the golf course. It was always when the temperature and humidity were both in the 90s.
Heat and humidity are a particularly bad combination for aging heart patients, but really for anybody, even for younger fitness enthusiasts, weekend warriors, and recreational athletes.
Hot summer days, particularly when accompanied by high humidity, are described by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as excessive heat events (EHEs) and considered a definite public health threat. EHEs increase the number of daily deaths and other nonfatal adverse health outcomes, according to the agency.
Common EHEs, caused by exposure to high temperatures and inadequate replacement of fluids (dehydration), include heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke
Heat exhaustion symptoms may include heavy sweating, muscle cramps, paleness, weakness, dizziness, nausea, headache, and fainting. More serious is heat stroke, where you may develop a very high body temperature (105°F or more); a rapid, strong pulse; red, hot, dry skin; a throbbing headache; dizziness; and nausea.
In a hot environment, the heart is straining and working overtime to try to keep you cool. Moreover, dehydration thickens the blood and makes it harder for the heart to pump. According to the Heart Foundation, studies have shown that people with heart disease or people who are taking medicines for blood pressure or excess fluid, such as diuretics, are at higher risk of heat-related illnesses, heart attack and even death during times of extreme heat.
The elderly are considered more prone to heat stress than younger people for a number of reasons: a declining inability to adjust to high temperatures and a greater likelihood to have a chronic medical condition and take drugs. These factors alter the way the body responds to heat, impairs regulation of body temperature, and may inhibit perspiration.
Tips for Avoiding Heat Stroke
- Whatever your age, just “cool it” when temperatures and/or humidity soar. Avoid exercising outdoors in the heat of the day. It’s just common sense. Go for a walk in an air-conditioned mall.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Have a glass of potassium-rich coconut water during the day.
- Eat fresh, organic fruit, full of vitamins and minerals.
- Snack on some watermelon – it’s a great thirst quencher, with an abundance of minerals.
Keep up Your Electrolyte Level
Electrolytes, such as magnesium, sodium, and potassium, are critical minerals the body needs for normal energy production and transmission of electrical messages. Sweating, diuretics, and poor digestion can deplete electrolytes to a dangerously low level. While popular sports drinks are one way to keep up your level, I don’t recommend them because they typically contain too much sugar or other sweeteners.
For this reason, I decided to develop an electrolyte powder formula to add to water. It’s fizzy, berry-flavored, and loaded with not just electrolytes, but dozens of other minerals, plus vitamins and antioxidants. You can find it at Drsinatra.com.
I can assure you this is one powerful remedy for electrolyte loss, as I personally experienced a few years ago when I was testing the formula. Here’s the story:
I was participating in a yoga class in a studio where the heat is turned up in order to promote flexibility. This time, the heat was ultra-high, and during the session people much younger than me were fleeing for the exit. Here I was in my 60s, the sweat pouring off of me, and definitely getting weaker. I couldn’t hold the poses. But I gutted it out and finished the class. Before going back the next time I poured my electrolyte formula into a bottle of water and brought it with me. I drank from it before the class and when the instructor announced a drink break, and I breezed through the session. The practitioners drinking plain water out of plastic bottles were again rushing for the exits.
This is not a recommendation to get out in the heat, but when you are active in the heat and doing a lot of sweating, make sure you replace the fluids and electrolytes being excreted.
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Excessive Heat Events Guidebook. 2006.
- The Heart Foundation. Heatwaves.
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