It’s tough to celebrate Independence Day indoors.
July 4th demands cookouts, lounging by the water and gathering at dusk for fireworks.
But temperatures in the 90s and high humidity in south Louisiana can also lead to heat exhaustion and sickness for many unprepared to spend all day outside.
“I think that everyone has to know their own limits when it comes to being outside in extremely hot weather,” says Dr. Shavaun Cotton from Baton Rouge Family Medical Center.
Staying hydrated can keep you healthy until the fireworks start and the sun goes down.
These tips from Cotton and Dr. Neal Johannsen, a human performance researcher at LSU, can help you stay cool this holiday.
Drink a little water between your beers and sodas. Having a few Cokes at the cookout won’t dehydrate you that badly, Johannsen says, because those 12-ounce cans don’t contain enough caffeine to seriously affect your fluid level.
And, while throwing back a few beers will prompt several trips to the bathroom, drinking a responsible amount of beer shouldn’t harm you.
“Unless you’re taking in mass amounts of either one, it doesn’t have a huge impact on your hydration level,” Johannsen says.
To be safe, Johannsen says, grab a bottle of water between each can of soda or beer.
Sprinkle a little salt on your breakfast. Salt helps you hold onto water and prevents dehydration. Johannsen’s research has revealed that eating salt tricks your body into thinking you are dehydrated, and you hold onto more liquid.
“If you don’t have something salty before you go outside,” Johannsen says, “you’ve pretty much set your body to a mode where it is trying to eliminate water.”
While Johannsen recommends athletes gulp chicken noodle soup or pickle juice before training in the heat, regular folks should shake a little extra salt on their eggs and hash browns before lighting the grill.
Wear sunscreen. Sunburns can eventually lead to skin cancer, and that should be reason enough to wear sunscreen. But avoiding baked, red skin can also keep you healthy and happy throughout Independence Day.
“The skin acts as a protective barrier for the body and prevents water loss,” Cotton says. “Whenever an extensive burn leads to a break in that skin barrier, it can lead to fluid loss and cause dehydration.”
Cotton recommends wearing sunscreen with an SPF rating of 30 or higher, even if it’s cloudy.
Get used to the heat. Thanks to the marvel of air conditioning, most of us Southerners don’t have to face heat and humidity every day.
The downside? Our bodies aren’t as prepared to handle the summer.
“You actually acclimatize to that hot environment,” Johannsen says. “It prepares you better to produce more sweat and cool your body better and cool it for a longer period of time.”
After spending time in the heat, your body stores more liquid in your blood, which increases your ability to sweat. Also, those better acclimated to hot temperatures begin to sweat sooner when they meet the heat. This cools the body faster.
Find a breeze. Or make one. Sweat that rolls off your skin onto the ground doesn’t do a lot of good.
“Unless it evaporates off your skin, it doesn’t have the effects of cooling your body,” Johannsen says.
In high humidity, sweat just sits and stagnates, giving your skin that boiling sensation.
A cool breeze created by the wind or a fan will help the sweat evaporate and keep your body temperature down, even in high humidity.