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Sun Times Feature Story

The Dangerous Summer Heat

By Larry Blustein
April Rush of North Miami Beach remembers it like it happened yesterday. It was a life-changing moment.

“I had just left the house for a walk at 4 in the late afternoon,” she recalled. “I drank four (Zephyrhills) bottles of water and was going to walk about a mile or so. After about 10 minutes in the that sun, my body began to feel weak and I can remember being disoriented.”

At the age of 43, what this mother of three was experiencing was heat exhaustion. With 87 degree temperatures blasting away with a heat index of nearly 100, this was something that we were all warned about a long time ago. It is a recipe for disaster.

Because of the extreme summer heat and added humidity, south Florida is one of the worst places to be outside during June, July and August. In fact, it can be deadly. If you doubt it, ask your physician or personal trainer what can happen.

What happened to Rush goes on every day. While she thought it was safe to go out that late in the day, she was wrong. It has been said that "It's not the heat, it's the humidity.” Well, actually it's both. Human bodies dissipate heat by varying the rate and depth of blood circulation, by losing water through the skin and sweat glands, and-as the last extremity is reached-by panting, when blood is heated above 98.6 degrees.

“What happens is that the heart begins to pump more blood, blood vessels dilate to accommodate the increased flow, and the bundles of tiny capillaries threading through the upper layers of skin are put into operation,” trainer Chris Melendez of Hollywood explained. “The body's blood is circulated closer to the skin's surface, and excess heat drains off into the cooler atmosphere. At the same time, water diffuses through the skin as perspiration. The skin handles about 90 percent of the body's heat dissipating function.”

Sweating, by itself, does nothing to cool the body, unless the water is removed by evaporation--and high relative humidity retards evaporation. The evaporation process itself works this way: the heat energy required to evaporate the sweat is extracted from the body, thereby cooling it. Under conditions of high temperature (above 90 degrees) and high relative humidity, the body is doing everything it can to maintain 98.6 degrees inside.

“I have researched everything about when it’s safe to exercise outside, hydration and anything else that I could do to keep myself safe,” Rush said. “But our body is something that we haven’t fully figured out.”

Heat disorders, generally have to do with a reduction or collapse of the body's ability to shed heat by circulatory changes and sweating, or a chemical (salt) imbalance caused by too much sweating. When heat gain exceeds the level the body can remove, or when the body cannot compensate for fluids and salt lost through perspiration, the temperature of the body's inner core begins to rise and heat-related illness may develop.

An avid runner, 55-year-old Mike Delaney of Aventura knows all about what the summer heat can do to wear down a body. While he prefers going to the gym and hopping on the treadmill, he does go outside early (6 a.m.) on the weekends, but still, he can still feel that humidity.

“I have found that no matter how great shape you think you are in, exercising outdoors, especially as we get older, is not that easy,” Delaney pointed out. “Here in southern Florida, it is the humidity that tests you - and that is where it gets dangerous. Too many people, in my opinion, push themselves beyond that limit.”

Ways To Beat The Heat
Everyone has a way to beat the summer heat. Some ideas are new - while others go way back to when our parents and grandparents used the resources available.

Here are a few tips for you to follow:
• Spend more time in air conditioned places. If you don't have air conditioning, consider visiting a mall, movie theater or other cool public places.
• Cover windows that receive morning or afternoon sun.
• Dress in lightweight clothing.
• Take a cool shower or bath, or place cool washcloths on your skin.
• Limit the time you're in direct sunlight.
• Do not leave infants, children, people with mobility challenges and pets in a parked car, even with the window rolled down.
• Avoid or reduce doing activities that are tiring, or take a lot of energy.
• Do outdoor activities in the cooler morning and evening hours.
• Avoid sunburn. Use a sunscreen lotion with a high SPF (sun protection factor) rating.