NEW YORK (MainStreet) – Unless you’ve been asleep in a movie theater for the past week, you’re probably aware that much of the U.S. is in the grip of a brutal heat wave right now. In major metros like New York and Washington, D.C., temperatures soared above 100 degrees, with humidity driving the heat index even higher. Basic common sense dictates that you should do your best to avoid outdoor exercise, stay hydrated and wear light, loose clothing.
But not every beat-the-heat strategy is as wise as it might seem, especially when it comes to your choice of beverage.
While it may seem sensible to chug ice water to cool yourself down, Dr. Scott Breidbart, medical director for Blue Cross/Blue Shield Empire in New York, says that doing so can backfire.
“When it’s very hot out, people tend to drink quickly, and the concern with ice cold fluids is that it causes stomach cramps,” he says. “While cramps aren’t dangerous, you don’t want to do something that’s going to prevent you from wanting to drink more.”
It’s fine to drink ice water as long as you do so slowly. But if you’re the chugging type, stick with cool rather than cold water.
Speaking of water, it’s probably your best bet when it comes to choosing a beverage to stay hydrated. While soft drink and beer companies both tend to bill their products as refreshing in the summer, Breidbart says that any drinks with alcohol, caffeine or a lot of sugar or salt can act as a diuretic and make you need to drink even more. If your goal is to stay hydrated as your body loses water through sweating, water is the way to go.
Finally, it probably goes without saying that air conditioning is your best option for staying cool. But if you’re allergic to high electric bills and thought you could get by with a fan alone, think again. When the temperature gets up around 98 degrees – our body temperature – conventional fans become more or less useless.
“Your body is 98.6 degrees, and the air around your body gets hot, too,” Breidbart explains. “Fans work great when it’s 70 degrees, because the fan replaces the hot air around you with cooler air. But when it’s 98 degrees out, the fan is just replacing the hot air with more hot air.”
A fan may help ever so slightly by hastening the evaporation. But when it’s this hot, you might as well bite the bullet and turn on the air conditioner – or just go the movies.