In the summer the rise of temperatures can affect our health. During the hot spells, in order to be safe and free from heat-related harm, we must keep in mind some recommendations and preventive measures. This is particularly important for the most vulnerable population groups, such as the elderly, babies and young children and chronically ill people.
From a social perspective, marginalization, isolation, dependence, disability or housing conditions in low-resource settings pose additional risk factors to the vulnerability suffered by those who, precisely because of their socio-economic circumstances, require more support.
Maximum and minimum daily temperatures can go up well above the usual values. They are known as temperature thresholds, and are defined by the Spanish National Meteorological Agency, the Ministry of Health, Social Services and Equality and the Autonomous Communities.
When maximum and minimum temperatures rise above these thresholds, a heat health alert is issued. We must pay attention to the warnings aired by the media and reinforce the prescribed measures during these days.
Temperature thresholds for both the provinces of the Canary Islands are fixed at a maximum of 33º C and a minimum of 23º C.
The Plan for the Prevention of the Effects of High Temperatures describes four different levels of excessive heat, depending on the forecast temperatures and on their duration:
Level 0 or No Risk, represented by Green.
Level 1 or Yellow Alert, when maximum and minimum temperatures are above the threshold values during 2 days at least.
Level 2 or Orange Alert, when temperatures are high during 3 or 4 days at least.
Level 3 or Red Alert, when temperatures are high for 5 days or longer.
Drinking more water is essential, no matter the kind of activity we’re engaged in. We shouldn’t wait until we are thirsty.
Older people, kids under 4 years and chronically ill persons must drink at least every hour to prevent dehydration. Particularly vulnerable people should stay at home in the hottest days. The rest of us are advised to avoid overexposure to the sun and specially during the peak sun intensity hours (between 12.00 and 16.00).
– Older people, specially those who are 65 and over.
– Infants and children under 4 years of age.
– People suffering from cardiovascular, respiratory and mental diseases (dementia, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s…).
– People suffering from chronic illnesses (diabetes mellitus, morbid obesity…).
– People on certain medications (diuretics, neuroleptics, anticholinergics and tranquilizers).
– People affected by memory disorders, comprehension or orientation difficulties, or lacking autonomy in their daily life.
– People who have problems adjusting to heat.
– People living on their own, homeless persons, people whose socio-economic conditions are adverse.
– People spending a long time out in the sun, for professional reasons (physical work in the open, jobs requiring them to stay in hot places), or for leisure or sport (strenuous activities outdoors).
– Suffering from acute sickness during the hot spells.
– Using alcohol and other drugs.
– Lack of air conditioning and hard-to-keep-cool housing.
– Environmental pollution.
– Living in densely urban areas.
– Continuous exposure to high temperatures that are not significantly lowered during the night.
Sometimes, a heatwave in the Canary Islands overlaps with another phenomenon locally known as “calima”, that is, an outbreak of suspended dust originated in the Sahara desert. It makes the airways dry and often worsens or intensifies respiratory diseases or symptoms, as, for instance, asthma or chronic obstructive lung disease (COLD). This increases the number of emergency department attendances and, in some cases, of hospital admissions.
– Stay at home and keep doors and windows closed.
– Use damp cloths to dust.
– Keep the atmosphere around you as moist as possible and hydrate yourself.
– Refrain from physical activity.
– If your respiratory symptoms go worse, call 1-1-2.
Physical activity, no matter the time of year, is an essential ingredient for a healthy lifestyle. It helps prevent and manage several chronic diseases, boosts weight control, lowers cholesterol, strengthens bones and muscles, reduces the risk of suffering obesity and is key in keeping a regular sleep schedule.
During the summer we usually find it easier to perform some kind of exercise, as we have more spare time and daylight hours are longer. That’s why, aiming at good health and wellbeing, we recommend at least half an hour a day of moderate-to-intense physical activity; and to do it properly you must consider the following points:
1. A good breakfast: Depending on the activity you have chosen, exercise must be performed from 60 to 90 minutes after eating. No alcohol, no tobacco.
2. Avoid the hottest hours of the day: Go out early in the morning or at sunset.
3. Know yourself: Keep in mind what’s the appropriate level of effort for you, and also the safe heart rate for your age and condition.
4. Wear the right clothes: Loose-fitting, absorbent fabrics, and suitable shoes for your workout.
5. Hydrate yourself thoroughly, particularly in very hot days: Children and older people need more hydration. A general rule is drinking every 15-20 minutes, and it is generally accepted that a litre and a half should be the adequate reposition for every kilo lost during exercising.
6. Use sunscreen: If you are exercising outdoors don’t forget to apply sunscreen, with at least 30 SPF. Wear a cap and, if possible, a wet scarf around your neck.
7. Running: If you decide to run in the beach, you’d better do it near the seashore. Choose the flattest surface you can find and wear suitable shoes. If you go running elsewhere, seek shady areas and safe trails.
8. Pregnant women, the elderly, children and overweight people: We should be extremely cautious in these cases, keep moderate levels of effort and don’t exceed the 60-70% of the safe heart rate for our age and condition.
9. In company: Working out with family and friends is much more fun and gratifying.
10. Nausea or dizziness: If you feel sick, dizzy or nauseated, as if you were going to faint, stop exercising. Take a rest in a shady place and drink till you recover.
The summer in our islands brings along many pilgrimages that are a part of religious or popular festivities. Before starting these hikes we must be specially careful; lack of practice and preparation, the wrong choice of equipment and high temperatures could cause serious inconvenience.
– It’s advisable to train for some days before hitting the trail, doing progressively longer hikes. This way we’ll be fit enough to face the pilgrimage without getting exhausted.
– Use comfortable, loose and breathable clothes, in natural fabrics. Protect your head from the sun to avoid sunstroke and heatstroke.
– Footwear is primordial. Taking regular care of our feet will prevent blisters and sores. Shoes must be comfortable, breathable and flexible. New shoes should never be worn for the first time for one of these hikes. They should better be low in the heel and support your ankles firmly.
– We must not force the pace, nor change abruptly our speed, as this could cause muscle strains and cramps. Going faster than 5 kilometres per hour is not recommended. We must take short breaks every 5 kilometres and avoid walking in the peak sun intensity hours.
– If you are going to do a night hike, make sure you get yourself seen, and remember you must wear reflective gear, visible for drivers approaching you from a minimum distance of 150 metres. You’re advised, too, to wear light coloured clothes.
– Always bring food with you, like chocolate or non-salty dried fruit and nuts. And, of course, water and isotonic drinks. Drink often and stay hydrated.
– Alcoholic beverages are not recommended in the least, particularly if the pilgrims are out in the sun for a long time and, even worse, if they must drive later. If you drink alcohol, keep it moderate.
– Include in your bag a small first-aid kit, with a lotion for cramps, insect repellent and everything you might need to dress small wounds. Add also lip balm and sunscreen.
– Keep all the information and emergency phone numbers handy, in case you have to use them before or during the hike.
Do you know somebody who belongs to any of these vulnerable groups?
Maybe somebody is in a risk situation?
Does it worry you to think that anyone in your family might be affected by a heat stroke?