How can you protect yourself from extremes of heat and cold?
In our last post, we talked about the importance of knowing how extreme heat and cold can actually affect the body. We learned that at a certain point, the balance is tipped and the body begins to break down from exposure to too much heat/cold.
Today’s post will center on the practical steps you can take to protect yourself from hypothermia or hyperthermia. The human body can work effectively in extreme environments as long as its thermoregulation needs are addressed.
If you want to be prepared for any disaster or emergency, you must know how to care for your body by keeping it warm or cool, depending on what environment you are presently exposed to.
Warding Off Hypothermia
How does ‘layering’ help the body stay warm?
In addition to the natural insulation provided by thermal clothing, layering helps your body regulate its temperature by trapping warm air in between the various layers of clothing that you are wearing
It’s the warm air in between your clothes that is actually doing most of the thermoregulation.
The small volume of warm air available to your body is actually generated by your body. Essentially, you are preserving the precious body heat that your muscles are giving off.
In a cold or freezing environment, the body tends to lose heat because that’s how heat works – it travels toward lower temperatures and areas of lower pressure. Body heat is no different from heat generated by a match or a diesel generator. Heat travels toward colder regions, always.
Does sweat help ward off hypothermia?
When you perform physical activities out in the cold, you may feel warm sweat pouring out from your pores. You will feel warm but not because of the sweat!
The body generates heat whenever you move your muscles so the heat is actually generated by all the physical activities you’re doing.
The sweat you’re producing on the other hand, can actually speed up the onset of hypothermia.
Sweat is a type of fluid that naturally cools the surface of the skin. Sweat also ruins the natural separation of different layers of clothing; this fluid can make those thermal layers adhere to each other!
When thermal layers stick together, you are left with an even smaller amount of warmed air. Again, this increases your risk of hypothermia because you are very dependent on warm air to keep the cold away.
So when you start performing rigorous physical activities, you should be observant of your own body’s reaction to the increase in activity.
If you begin to sweat excessively, you should start removing some layers of clothing to discourage your body from producing and releasing even more sweat. You can put on the additional layers later when you start feeling cold again.
Warding Off Hyperthermia
Native populations from the hottest regions of the world have devised ingenious and practical ways to live in their lands with minimal problems with the local temperature.
Here are some tips to ward off hyperthermia, as inspired by native cultures such as the Bedouins:
- Protect your head and hair from the direct heat of the sun. The same principle applies to your legs and arms. The less sun exposure you experience, the cooler you will be.
- Don’t wear tight clothing. Air needs to circulate around your body so you don’t overheat.
- Protect your nape and neck from the sun, too. Any piece of clean clothing can be wrapped around these areas to block off the sun.
- The color of your garments matter, too. Dark colored garments have a tendency to absorb the heat of the sun while lighter colored clothing let the sun’s rays bounce off easily. If you have plenty of clothing available, avoid the dark ones and wear lighter-colored shirts and pants most of the time.
- Be adaptable to the peculiar weather of the area. You must change your outfit depending on the actual temperature of your surroundings. For example, did you know that many deserts can be bitterly cold in the evening but blazingly hot in the afternoon?
- In the event that you feel like the heat is too much, use a wet piece of cloth to cool yourself down. This technique works most of the time. If water is available (e.g. a river), take a dip!
- Rest during the hottest times of the day and resume your work when the sun is about to go down. If the midday sun is too hot to handle, there’s no point in travelling under the sun’s gaze.