People with an existing heart condition need to be careful with warmer temperatures. Even a healthy heart can be put under stress when temperatures climb. Strategies to protect your heart during the summer heat can include hydrating, knowing heat illness warning signs and dressing correctly.
With high temperatures and humidity, it’s important to protect your heart from the hazards of the summer heat.
Interventional cardiologist Dr On Chen has some suggestions to help you stay heart-safe all summer long. He is director of the critical care and telemetry units at Stony Brook Medicine’s outpatient cardiology services and its lipid programme in New York, United States.
He says people with an existing heart condition need to be careful with warmer temperatures, but even a healthy heart can be put under stress when temperatures climb.
Tips to help you make your summer heart-safe
1. Hydrate. Drinking plenty of water helps regulate your temperature, helps your heart pump more easily and keeps all your organs functioning properly. Remember to drink before you are thirsty and to avoid alcohol and caffeinated beverages, which can dehydrate the body. Some common heart medications can make you more vulnerable to high heat and increase your hydration needs. Talk to your doctor about your specific hydration needs.
2. Stay cool. If you don’t have access to air conditioning, cold compresses (an ice pack or ice water-filled bottle) applied to your pulse points — the areas where your veins are closest to your skin’s surface, including wrists, neck, temples and armpits — can help you cool down.
3. Eat water-rich foods. You get about 20% of your water from the foods you eat. A hot-weather diet that emphasises cold soups, salads and fruits can both satisfy hunger and provide extra fluid. Strawberries, watermelon, peaches, cucumbers, celery, tomatoes, peppers and spinach are all fruits and veggies that are 90% or more water.
4. Know heat illness warning signs. Spending too much time in extreme heat may lead to heat exhaustion and, in turn, heatstroke, two serious heat-related illnesses in which your body can’t control its temperature.
- Heat Exhaustion Symptoms: Heavy sweating, nausea or vomiting, muscle cramps, tiredness, dizziness, and fainting. Treatment: Move to a cool place, loosen clothing, use cold compresses and sip cool (not cold) water. If symptoms persist, call emergency services.
- Heatstroke (also called sunstroke) symptoms: Fever of 40 degrees or more, severe headache, behavioural changes, confusion, hot or red skin, no sweating, rapid heartbeat and loss of consciousness. Treatment: Heatstroke is a life-threatening medical emergency. Call emergency services immediately. Quickly move the individual to a cooler place, use cold compresses and do not give anything to drink.
5. Know your numbers. See your doctor to get a careful look at your “numbers”, including your cholesterol and triglyceride levels, your blood pressure and more. Knowing your numbers and your risk factors are an important part of heart health, especially before engaging in warm-weather activities.
6. Timing is everything. Avoid being outdoors during the hottest times of the day when the sun is at its strongest and temps are at their highest. Your cardiovascular system has to work harder on a hot day in an effort to keep your body cool. In fact, for every degree that your body temperature rises, your heart has to pump an additional 10 beats per minute. Everyone is at risk in extreme heat, but high temperatures and humidity are particularly stressful for those who already have a weakened heart.
7. Be sun-savvy. A sunburn can dehydrate you and impede your body’s ability to cool. If you’re going to be outside during the peak sun of the day, be sure to apply sunscreen 30 minutes before you head out. Reapply every couple of hours.
8. Dress right. Wear loose, light-coloured clothing (to help reflect heat) that is made of a lightweight, breathable fabric like cotton. Add well-ventilated shoes, a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses and sunscreen.
9. Pace yourself. Make your warm-weather workouts shorter and slower, aim for morning or evening when the temps and humidity are lower, choose shady pathways and trails or an air-conditioned space. Work with your healthcare team to develop a plan that is best for you.
10. Listen to your body. If you aren’t used to regular exercise, are over 50, have heart disease or have questions about your heart health, see your doctor before participating in any strenuous outdoor summer activities.