Beat the Heat 5 Pillar Style!

August 7, 2018

Clinical Contributors to this Story

Lisa Sussman, Psy.D. contributes to topics such as Integrative Health and Medicine.

By Lisa Sussman, Psy.D.
Health Psychologist

Here we are in the dog days of summer. Typically, July and August are the warmest times of year in the U.S. While it’s great to have warmth and longer days, by now we may be itching to cool down a bit, or at least regulate our bodies amidst relentless heat. At times, we may find ourselves overheated, both physically and mentally. At Hackensack Meridian Integrative Health & Medicine, we view health from our Five Pillar model: Sleep, Activity, Purpose, Nutrition, and Resilience. Let’s take a look together at how we can beat the heat through the perspective of the Five Pillars of Health and Well-Being.

Sleep: The ideal room temperature for sleep is between 60 – 67 degrees Fahrenheit. Studies have shown that temps above 75 degrees can disrupt sleep. To stay cool through the night and foster a good night’s sleep, use air conditioning, fans, cotton sheets, a light blanket, and light cotton pajamas. Pack up that winter quilt! There are also mattress pads and gel mats that can be purchased which provide a layer of coolness on the mattress. Another point to consider about sleeping in summer is that our eating, exercising and overall activation time may happen later in the evening due to vacations, longer days, and increased socializing. Try to put at least 3 hours between eating a meal and exercising before going to bed to optimize your sleep. Alcoholic drinks also impact quality of sleep and tend to disrupt sleep. When socializing, we can be mindful about what we are consuming, when, and how that may affect our sleep that night. Carve out a wind-down period of 30-60 minutes between the evening activity and going to bed to relax the body and mind and initiate our melatonin production for sleep.

Activity: Current guidelines (American Heart Association and others) recommend 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, or a combination of both. How can we get this in during summer while minimizing our risk of getting overheated or having heatstroke? Exercising outdoors and participating in social or team sports gives an extra boost to our mood, releasing endorphins and even oxytocin, so plan to get out there either early in the morning, or after dinner, when the weather is cooler. Summer is also a great time to change our exercise routine, so try things such as biking and swimming. On stormy days or when it doesn’t work to be out in the cooler parts of the day, hit the gym with a fun class, yoga, or strength workout, or break out a fitness DVD in the house.

Purpose: While managing the dog days of summer, it’s important to infuse sparks of joy and meaning into the hot and sometimes energy-draining days. What can we do in the summer that we can’t do as easily the rest of the year? There may be more time for meaningful volunteer work and giving back, and enjoying more gatherings with family and friends. Take that vacation or stay-cation! Go watch the sunrise and take a walk on the beach (my personal favorite thing to do in the summer) before heading to work. When it’s too hot to be outdoors, stay in the cool house and enjoy that book we’ve been meaning to read or tackle the home improvement or craft project that’s been on our list.

Nutrition: Summer = more sweat = drink more water! Every day we should be drinking water equal to at least half of our body weight in ounces. Here in August, we need to make sure we are staying hydrated, and cool water does that best. Keep it fresh and appealing by adding slices of fruit or cucumber. Drink or make sparkling water for a change up, flavoring it yourself to stay away from chemicals and sugar. Ayurvedic teachings point us in the direction of consuming cooling foods in summer while staying away from spicing it up too much. Naturally sweet, bitter, and astringent foods are good choices. Go for ripe fruits such as cherries, peaches, pineapples, avocados and mangos, as well as green leafy veggies, asparagus, sweet potatoes, and green beans. Spices like mint and cilantro will help keep us cool.

Resilience: Prolonged heat not only affects us physically, but can impact our mood as well. The term “hot and bothered” comes to mind. Emotionally, we may feel drained and irritable when it seems like there’s no escape from the heat, or when the events we attend are overly crowded. To get balanced, incorporate daily activities that increase joy, and spend some quiet time in thought, meditation, or listening to music. Whatever it takes to “cool down”! Try some activities such as taking a cool bath with lavender essential oil, riding the waves in the ocean, digging your feet in the sand, walking in a shady park, or chilling on a raft or kayak.  Take a few minutes to breathe slowly and deeply, then imagine with all of your senses being at the beach, in the water, or somewhere cool. The brain will get the “cooling” message and the body will physiologically start to respond, providing a respite and balance.

We can use the Five Pillars of Health and Well-being to make the most out of the last few weeks of summer, keeping cool, healthy, and happy. Enjoy!

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