Embracing the Heat
Last week, I told you how to embrace the cold—how to make the most of an uncomfortable ambient temperature. Today, I’m giving you some ideas on how to embrace the other uncomfortable ambient temperature: heat. What can you do to make the most of hot weather? How do you handle heat? How can you make something objectively unpleasant—and even dangerous—beneficial, pleasant, and enjoyable?
Because you shouldn’t just give in and turn on the AC and forget about doing anything. You shouldn’t run away from the heat. You should be able to face it head on and make friends with the heat, not enemies.
How to Embrace the Heat
Wake up early.
Get up early, earlier than usual go outside, and get as much intellectual work done as you can before the heat ramps up.
Lee Kuan Yew, the founder of Singapore, often said that air conditioning was the single biggest factor in his country’s rise to prominence. Once AC was installed in the cities, his people finally had relief from the oppressive tropical heat and could do real intellectual work. The same is true for the individual. Heat makes thinking, writing, and creating harder. Early morning before the sun starts hitting hard is the best time to get creative, intellectual work done. Or any work, really—yard work, labor, etc.
Get up before the sun starts asserting itself. Another advantage of doing this is that the early morning natural light will entrain your circadian rhythm so you can get to bed earlier and fall asleep faster and sleep more deeply.
Sit with the heat.
Don’t reach for the AC right away. Take some clothes off and just sit with the heat and the sweat and the misery. Let it envelop you and know that you will be fine. You’re going to survive, it’s not that bad, you’re simply going to be uncomfortable. Accept the fact that you’re going to feel the heat and know that you, as a human, have a long history of handling extreme temperatures—both cold and hot. It’s what you’re built to do. You got this.
You must accept the heat. You can’t change it. It’s here, you’re in it, and you are going to deal with it.
It’s not enough to simply drink water in hot weather. Drink water, of course, but doing that without heeding the importance of electrolytes—sodium, magnesium, potassium, and calcium being the foremost ones to worry about—will have you urinating out most of the water you consume without actually absorbing much of it. So what does this mean?
For most people in most situations, sprinkling salt in all your water is adequate. (A squirt of lemon will make it more palatable.) Getting enough sodium will help you retain the other electrolytes. If you’re really going to be exerting yourself in the heat, then go with a legitimate electrolyte supplement like LMNT or my tried and true homemade electrolyte drink: coconut water, salt, blackstrap molasses, and lemon or lime juice.
Read my previous posts on electrolytes—what they are and how to get them—for more information and more ideas on electrolyte repletion.
I wear lots of linen lately, ever since moving to Miami. Linen is a legitimate performance material that doesn’t get enough respect. It’s not just lounge material. It breathes, it looks good, it feels great, and there’s something special about wearing “natural” fibers that words or science can’t quite capture. Plus, there are no plastic synthetic fibers in linen, so when you wash it you aren’t adding to the microplastic load on Earth and its ground water.
Little known fact that may or may not be totally accurate: linen is made from flax, so in a pinch you can chew on your linen shirt to extract enough omega-3s to satisfy your daily requirements.
Good linen company here.
Take your clothes off.
Remove them all. Get naked. Put on your birthday suit. Do so only in a socially acceptable place, like your own home or backyard or property, but take them off. Your home is where “society” ends and your dominion begins. You’re not a character in a TV show who has to be fully dressed at home. You can let loose and remove the cotton shackles that bind your thermoregulation. You can take you clothes off—as many as it takes to feel comfortable.
Get sun, but not too much.
Hot weather means strong sun, and strong sun means vitamin D production. But if you aren’t acclimated to the sunlight, or you have strong genetic proclivities toward sun vulnerability, strong sun can burn your skin and increase the risk of skin cancer.
Of course, sun avoidance is linked to more cancer and more health issues than sun exposure, but you still need to do it safely.
- Slowly build sun tolerance. Get ten minutes today, fifteen tomorrow, and so on.
- Avoid burning. Get out while you’re ahead.
- Get early morning sun. AM sun is higher in infrared light, which protects your skin against subsequent UV damage.
- Don’t rely on sunscreen. Many of the products on the market do more damage than sun itself. Covering up with hats and clothing or finding shade are much better options than slathering sunscreen containing questionable compounds. Good sunscreen exists, but it’s still not ideal.
Read this post on safe sun exposure for further details. Or this one.
Eat spicy food.
Spicy food cools you off by heating you up and speeding up the sweat effect, thereby cooling you. I wouldn’t advise using this method to increase heat tolerance during exercise or active intense heat exposure. It’s more about the “impression” of ambient heat—how hot you “feel.”
A little “hack,” if you will, is to sprinkle some cayenne in a glass of water and drink it. Add only as much as you can tolerate. This is coincidentally also a great morning wake-up in the absence of coffee.
Stress is stress is stress—stress is fungible. Heat is a major stressor, and if you’re trying to deal with a heavy commute after a bad night’s sleep and not training for two weeks and junk food at night and arguing with your family and putting things off you should have already taken care of, the heat will take an even greater toll on you. Heat is an unavoidable stressor, furthermore. It’s there, you can’t escape it, it’s in the environment, and you’d better soften its blow by handling all the other stressors you can control.
This lines up well with the first recommendation: get the hard stuff done early before the world heats up. There’s nothing quite so unpleasant as trying to handle stressful duties and situations in 100-degree weather. Get it done early and what’s normally stressful won’t be.
Use the car sauna.
On a truly hot day, your car can hit upwards of 130 or 140 degrees F. Go get in the car, sit there, and just take the heat. Imagine it’s a sauna. It is a sauna. Feel that heat. Feel the sweat trickling down your neck down your shirt. Feel your heat shock proteins coming to life, pulsating, activating.
Don’t leave your dog or toddler in the car on a hot day, but for you—an adult with a functional forebrain—it can be very beneficial. Just don’t die or fall asleep. Be smart.
Do long easy workouts and short hard workouts.
I wouldn’t recommend long, grueling hikes in the heat. I wouldn’t recommend extended CrossFit-style metabolic conditioning workouts in the heat. I wouldn’t recommend running a marathon in the heat. But I would recommend long easy workouts and short hard workouts in the heat. Think a shaded walk. Think a hike through the forest. Think a nice swim (see below for more on that). Staying in an aerobic heart rate zone (take 180, subtract your age, and keep your heart rate under that number) will keep you from overexerting yourself, overheating, and running into problems.
I’d also recommend short, hard workouts. Intensity up, duration down. Five minute kettlebell session in full sun. Push the sled (or the car) around outside. Drag the barbells outside. Run some hill sprints (rest in the shade).
Your body can handle long easy stuff and short hard stuff in intense heat, no problem. It’s the long hard stuff that causes problems.
This is the perfect opportunity to get some time in the water.
Swimming is a great workout, yes. You can sprint and get an incredible cardiovascular workout and muscle pump. You can go long and slow and make it aerobic. You can take some dumbbells or kettlebells into the water and do underwater workouts (like Laird Hamilton).
But swimming is also relaxing. It’s play. It’s fun. It’s an underutilized mode of transportation. Some would say that humanity is an aquatic species, or at least amphibious. We’ve always congregated along the coastlines whenever possible, and our giant brains are largely a product of our evolutionary access to the long-chain omega-3s found in shellfish and marine animals. We’re supposed to be spending lots of time in water.
Natural bodies of water are optimal—you get the natural mineral soak, the splash of the salt water cleansing and renewing you, the fury of the surf pounding you, the silt and sand and rocks underfoot, the overall wildness of the endeavor—but a nice pool works great as well.
That’s how I beat the heat: not by fighting it, but by joining it. Enjoying it. Accepting it. Using it to actually improve my day to day life.
I’d love to hear how you deal with the heat. How do you embrace hot weather?
Let me know down below.
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