Have you noticed that most people have been in a good mood for the past couple of days? A few drivers (one of them behind the wheel of a bus!) actually let me merge into the traffic. The neighborhood dogs have barked less, and all over town, folks are out and about. Obviously, the cooler temperatures have made for a happier Merida.
I started wondering about the scientific studies that measure the effects of extremely hot weather on our physical health and mental wellbeing? Come to find out that tons of them are posted on the internet – and every single one of them starts with a basic assertion:
Worldwide climate instability is caused by global warming. Period.
This means there will be longer, hotter summers in many places, including Yucatan – so heat-related physical and emotional health problems are on the rise.
Earth’s warming oceans and changing climate improve the habitat for mosquitoes. Mosquito bites can infect humans with diseases – both new and re-emerging – like dengue, chikungunya, and west Nile. As the climate continues to heat up there is a real risk that we’ll see more cases of malaria. Ticks also thrive in elevated temperatures, allowing them to feed and grow at a faster rate. The black legged tick is a carrier of Lyme disease.
How can you avoid mosquitoes and other disease transmitters? In Yucatan, you cannot. But you can significantly reduce risks by using insect repellent when you are outdoors, especially in the evenings. Put screens on all your windows and doors, and to prevent propagation, be sure there is no stagnant water in your home or garden. It won’t be pleasant if you are infected – but don’t panic – follow your doctor’s advice, and you should recover with no lasting side effects.
In the tropics, dealing with the high temperatures is really the biggest challenge. The human body copes with heat by perspiring and breathing. However, if you live in an environment with high temperatures and high humidity, you may be sweating but the sweat won’t be drying on the skin, and this can lead to heat exhaustion. Be alarmed if you feel dizzy, or have a headache. If you begin sweating profusely, your skin turns red, or you have muscle cramps, you can be sure you are being overwhelmed by the heat. These symptoms can usually be quickly treated with rest, a cool environment and hydration (including refueling of electrolytes, which are necessary for muscle and other body functions). Don’t fool around – if you do not deal with this – your condition will move from heat exhaustion to heat stroke.
How can you prevent this from happening? Drinking water – at least 8 glasses a day – in addition to other fluids is essential to good health in Yucatan. The systems in the human body that enable it to adapt to heat cannot cope if dehydration sets in. One more thing – a number of studies show that people taking diuretics for high blood pressure, and beta blockers could be at increased risk.
Fortunately, in Yucatan, the temperature usually falls in the evening, allowing for respite. But on the nights when it remains elevated, the body can get overwhelmed, and you’ll need to be extra careful the following day. Certainly society has evolved in dealing with the heat—the biggest boon in hot, humid climates is the development of efficient air conditioners. Fans are not enough, and can actually make it harder for the body to adapt to heat. Like a convection oven accelerates cooking time – blowing hot air on a person can heat them up rather than cooling them down. Although some hardy northerners do manage, I would go so far as to say that if you are moving to Yucatan from a cooler climate, you will absolutely need at least one AC unit.
We’re living to older ages, and Yucatan’s climate is nothing to take lightly. Be careful with the I-can-handle-it attitude. Watch how the locals manage the heat and mimic them.
- Make the daily siesta (at least lie down) part of every day.
- Only exercise in the early morning or late in the evening.
- Stay out of the noonday sun.
- Walk on the shady side of the street.
- Wear a hat, or carry an umbrella to protect yourself from the direct rays.
- Use cotton clothing
- Drink plenty of water.
- Go easy on the heavy food and alcohol.
- Do your socializing in the evenings.
- To bring down your body temperature, take frequent showers or frequently dip into a pool.
Look after yourself, and you’ll live happily in the heat, you’ll save yourself a lot of grief and you’ll be healthier – body, mind and spirit.