Here in Las Cruces, we tend to think we know all about summer heat and how it affects our bodies. We might not know as much as we believe, however. Despite warnings and advice from medical authorities, more than 600 people a year in the US die of heat-related illness.
We’ve all seen our neighbors trudging along a road, trail, or sidewalk in the hot sun. Maybe it’s us. Exercise is a beautiful thing, and our bodies respond well to healthy activity. But during the summer, we need to be especially careful not to walk ourselves straight into an emergency room.
The Dog Days of Summer
Yes, the Dog Days is a real thing and occurs each year between July 23 and August 11. Regardless of the imagined tales of its origin, it denotes the alignment of Sirius, called the Dog Star, with the sun. Romans believed such a bright star gave off heat that affected Earth, explaining the scorching weather during that period. While we know now that Sirius can’t radiate heat to us sitting so far away, this period is always especially hot and sometimes dangerous.
We humans can usually maintain a core temperature (the temperature of the internal organs) of 97˚F and 99˚F without much help from external cooling or heating. When temperatures make that unlikely or impossible to maintain, it is essential to pay heed. Addressing the maintenance of that range of core temperature can mean the difference between a pleasant outing and illness or death.
The Consequences of Heat Injury
We need to keep our bodies’ temperature at that healthy level. The environment needs to be about 82˚F (28˚C) for our systems to work correctly. If the weather is colder or hotter, then we need to pay attention before trouble occurs. Don’t just look at a thermometer and trust that is the correct temperature. The key is the apparent temperature. That includes humidity, wind, or rain.
From 90˚ and 105˚F (32˚ and 40˚C), heat exhaustion and heat cramps are common. If you are in the habit of taking your walks in the New Mexican summer days, you are likely to be putting forth too much effort for your health. You need to adjust to keep your core temperature from rising to the danger zone.
Heat exhaustion is possible between the apparent temperatures of 105˚ and 130˚F (40˚ and 54˚C). In this range, you need to limit your activities. Staying indoors in a cooled environment is the only safe option. Always keep drinking, even when you aren’t thirsty. Don’t depend on fans alone to keep you cool. If you don’t have adequate air cooling or conditioning, contact the City of Las Cruces at (575) 541-2000 to inquire if there are emergency heat shelters where you can go to cool off during the day.
Temperatures between 105˚ and 130˚F (40˚ and 54˚C) make heat exhaustion likely. Limiting activity, both indoors and out, is a necessity. When the environmental temperature surpasses 130˚F (54˚C), heatstroke becomes a real possibility.
Stay Healthy and Safe
Most of us know that wearing clothing to protect our skin from the sun’s rays and keeping hydrated are effective to stay safe in the typical Las Cruces summer days. But, just what kind of protection makes a difference.
Many times, we see people covered head to toe walking along the roads. The issue with many is the weight of their garments. If you cover your skin with heavy twill, denim, or multilayered cotton, you are essentially putting yourself inside an oven. Very lightweight and light-colored garments will protect you and, at the same time, allow excess heat to escape your body. No one wants to walk or jog in a slow cooker.
Coverings for the head, face, ears, and neck are common on Las Cruces trails. A good, lightweight hat that covers not only the head but the neck and shades the face. Again, look for a lightweight garment. Heat escapes from your head more than any other body area. If you block that heat escape hatch, your brain can cook even in average summer temperatures.
Speaking of the Dog Days of Summer, if you are taking your pooches along for a pleasant walk, consider the pavement. If you wouldn’t walk barefoot on the sidewalk, street, or path, then consider that your dogs shouldn’t do so either. Consider getting each dog their own set of dog boots to protect their paws.
Take care and have a great summer enjoying the outdoors in Southwest New Mexico!