How to take care of yourself in extreme heat

Outdoor portrait of senior man who is drinking water

June 21, 2024 – The most important thing you can do to stay safe during extreme heat—temperatures over 90 degrees—is to be aware just how dangerous hot weather can be, according to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Gaurab Basu.

Basu is director of education and policy at Harvard Chan’s Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment (Harvard Chan C-CHANGE) and a primary care physician. He offered a list of recommendations on avoiding heat-related health problems in a June 19 Boston Globe article.

“The most important thing is awareness,” he said. “We have to have a mindset that hot weather can impact our health.”

The article noted that extreme heat is the leading cause of weather-related deaths in the U.S. and that heat waves are expected to become longer and more intense due to climate change. Communities of color and low-income communities are disproportionately impacted by heat, Basu said. Others at high risk include infants, people over age 65, people who are pregnant, athletes, and outdoor laborers, as well those with chronic illnesses, asthma, or COPD.

Basu recommended taking the following precautions during extreme heat:

  • Stay hydrated. If your urine is dark, drink 2–3 glasses of water.
  • Take baths, showers, use a wet towel on your skin, or spray yourself with water while using a fan.
  • Visit a cooling center.
  • Avoid alcohol, sugary, or caffeinated drinks.
  • Eat easy-to-digest foods like salads or fruits.
  • Don’t exert yourself outdoors if possible.
  • Avoid dark clothes; wear light, loose-fitting clothes.
  • Use sunscreen and wear hats.

For comprehensive information on how to stay safe during extreme heat, check out the toolkits put together by C-CHANGE and Americares, which Basu uses with patients and colleagues.

Basu also recently spoke about the health dangers of heat in other media outlets, including ABC News and the Times of India.

Read the Boston Globe article: How to tell if you are dehydrated in the extreme heat

Watch the ABC News clip: Extreme heat and the danger to your health

Read the Times of India article: ‘Heatwave health impacts can be life-threatening—adjust your activities to help your body cope’

Photo: iStock/Photodjo