As the mercury sinks and the sun goes into hibernation, many of us in Northern countries dream of warmer places. But the arrival in hotter countries is not always as pleasant as in our dreams – the heat can be a shock to the system. Our Brazilian Post Doc, Marcia Alves, explains:
Extreme temperatures represent a health problem all over the world. While Northern Europeans suffer in January with the cold and often dry air, the countries below the Equator, like Brazil, may be extremely hot and humid. Norwegians and most people from cold countries are quite good at winter sports, or at least good at dressing for sports in very cold temperatures. But most Norwegians, and other people not used to heat, suffer when travelling to hot places, something that could ruin their holiday.
Which signs appear as children or older people get heat-related problems? How and when to do exercise? What to drink, eat or wear?
Daily work and exercising in hot weather can pose a challenge even for the fittest. Millions of people die every year due to heat-related problems, especially children and older people. In cities like Rio de Janeiro during the summer, temperatures may get close to 40oC and humidity over 90%. This affects the body’s ability to cool itself through sweating. Normally, an average adult will lose 2-3 litres at room temperature a day through sweating; but in hot and humid conditions, this could reach 10 litres of sweat a day. This means extreme loss of body fluid. But because of the humidity, the air is already saturated, and sweating loses its effect. And so, the internal body temperature could get dangerously high.
Recently, lawyers in Rio de Janeiro have started a campaign to abolish ties and suits during their daily activities – they are not as efficient when they are feeling too hot. Likewise, policemen with outdoor duties in southern states of Brazil have already changed their uniform.
But much could still be changed. This January, in Aracaju (Sergipe) in the north of Brazil, which is even warmer than southern Brazil, I saw policemen wearing long, thick, black uniforms, heavy black boots and protective vests (and carrying heavy shotguns) inside the university campus! Would they be able to run after small, fast thieves, with fewer clothes on?
The risk of heat stroke is even higher when exercising. Last year in Brazil, some policemen died during a 10 km training race due to their hot uniforms in very hot and humid weather. So, before heading to a nice warm place, remember to include in your luggage: loose, light cotton clothes, protections for the head, skin and proper sunglasses. Once you get there, avoid the hottest sun hours, look for a nice coconut tree with its huge shadow, drink litres of fluids, and eat lots of juicy fruit and vegetables. Also avoid drinking too much alcohol as this dehydrates the body further.
If you are fit, you will cope better with the weather, but do not forget to reduce the number of workouts and give yourself more breaks.
Finally, be alert to the signs of heat stress which include: fatigue, headache, nausea, vomiting, muscle cramps, thirst, etc. – especially if you travel with children or older relatives.
Now you are well prepared to have a good time!
Marcia Alves, Post Doc, CERG