Fall is the New Summer: How to Stay Safe in Our Hot, “New Normal”

“Out of school
County fair in the country sun
And everything is cool
Ooh, yeah, yeah
Hot fun in the summertime!”

Sly and the Family Stone’s iconic hit, “Hot Fun in the Summertime” celebrates what many of us consider the primo time of year.

But have you noticed? September is here, the kids are back in school, the county fair season is over and fall football has kicked off. Yet, where is that hint of a fall chill?  Instead, much of the US is still under a blanket of punishing heat.

We’re experiencing a new phenomenon that affects people of all ages, from infants to senior citizens. The most vulnerable are those over 65 years old, outdoor workers and those with chronic medical conditions.

In this blog, we offer relief! We’ll get some reminders of obvious and not so obvious tips on how to stay safe in the heat. We’ll bust some sunscreen myths. And you’ll hear from an extreme athlete (and one of our Marquis recreation experts) on her near-death experience that shows how sneaky and fast heat stroke can strike.

But first what is this “new norm?”

Longer, Hotter Seasonal Heat

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), climatologists and meteorologists are forecasting a fall season that will sizzle with hotter than average temperatures and drought conditions

That could mean three more months of dangerous heat.

As a recent Washington Post headline put it, “Summer in America is becoming hotter, longer and more dangerous.”

It isn’t unexpected. Back in 2011, a Stanford University study forecasted, “large areas of the globe are likely to warm up so quickly that, by the middle of this century, even the coolest summers will be hotter than the hottest summers of the past 50 years.”

The result?

  • Extreme heat has been the biggest reason more people than ever before have died over the last three decades. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports heat related fatalities jumped almost 60 percent between 2018 and 2021.
  • In the Pacific Northwest, where Marquis Companies is headquartered, we saw temperatures climb last year to 116 degrees. Six-hundred people died over a single week in Oregon and Washington.
  • Above average temperatures are contributing to more wildfires, a buckling electrical grid, abnormal drought conditions, flooding and a massive heat dome over the US.
  • Summer is always “trauma season” for hospitals, but scorching temperatures are increasing the numbers of heat related cases flooding emergency rooms.

Who best to share how to stay safe in the summer heat than our own Lynne Jensen, Marquis’ Certified Recreational Activities Consultant. Lynne keeps residents active and safe no matter what the thermometer reads, whether they’re attending Ted Talks, visiting art galleries, taking classes or fulfilling life-long wishes in Marquis’ New Chapters program.

She’s also never found a sport she didn’t love –– or at which she excels: basketball, volleyball, softball, tennis, track and field and racquetball. She’s had to up her game on how to stay safe in this intense heat.

Q: Lynne, you had a near-death experience that shows how easily heat can sneak up on us, even on an athlete like you.   

A: Yes, I tell this story often because heat stroke and death are stealthy and with these temperature extremes becoming more common, we all need to become more aware of what heat does to our bodies and how fast that happens!

I’ve been long distance cycling for years—trips up to 500, even 1,000 miles long. On this particular trip, I was part of a group riding from White Fish, Montana back to Portland. I was 48 years old at the time.

A lot of people don’t realize that if you’re exercising or working in extreme heat, you can’t just drink water. You need sodium. But I couldn’t stand the taste of the electrolyte additive we brought along, so I was guzzling straight water. Before I ever realized it was happening, my body began going into shock and I was in big trouble.

Q: What symptoms did you experience?

A: My body temp soared to over 100 degrees. I had a raging pulse, I was having a really difficult time breathing and I was no longer sweating, meaning I had sweated out all my water. By the time they got me to the emergency room, I was hallucinating and exhibiting bizarre behavior. When they put me in the wheelchair, I began peddling my legs, as if I thought I was still on my bike. I couldn’t speak and answer important questions about myself. I ended up in the intensive care unit and that saved my life.

Q:  When these symptoms occur, what’s happening inside the body?

A: The organs are going into shock. Extreme heat stresses every organ in the human body as it struggles to control the core temperature. The heart plays a crucial role in this, as it helps pump blood away from the central parts of the body to the skin. For people with pre-existing heart disease or conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes, the extra strain placed on the heart by extreme heat can lead to heart attacks and strokes. Finally, if heat levels continue to increase, the body suffers from multi-organ failure and eventually death.

Q:  Are there earlier warning signs?

A: Not going to the bathroom or having urine that is dark and concentrated. Those are earlier signs of heat exhaustion. The heat and sun are absorbing and dehydrating you. Dehydration can kill. Add alcohol to heat – think about barbeques and concerts – and you’re really getting rapid dehydration.

Other symptoms include muscle cramps, dizziness and sweating profusely.

If you start experiencing any of these, don’t wait. Get out of the heat, drink water and cool down.

Q: Let’s talk about sunscreen  application.  You say we often miss the most important area.

A: Basil cell and squamous cell cancers are 90 percent of all skin cancers and that’s mostly from unprotected exposure to UV rays, most often on the ears, neck, upper body and head.

We don’t think about our scalp, which unless you’re covering with an SPF hat, gets a lot of sun.  There are some good, greaseless sunscreens for your head.

Make sure to use sunscreen on your hands, cheeks, ears, the back of your legs, your feet and the arm pits.

Q: You have a particular message for young people, right?

A: What happens years ago catches up with you. Just because you’re not getting a sun burn, doesn’t mean you’re not damaging your skin. My dad just had a big chunk of one of his ears removed and then he had to go through treatments. It was damage that occurred when he was a young boy but it didn’t show up until he was in his seventies.

Q: What level of SPF should we buy and do you have to use it even when it’s cloudy?

A: Not needing sunscreen on cloudy days is one of the biggest myths out there. I live in Oregon, one of the rainiest, cloudiest states, right? Yet, we have one of the highest rates of skin cancer. No one is quite sure why but even here we need to use sunscreen. Every day. You may not see the sun, but harmful rays are still pouring through the clouds and into your skin.

There are excellent, everyday moisturizers that have SPF. Use at least a 30 SPF or higher. I prefer SPF of at least 50. That will block 97 percent of the harmful rays.

Q: Do we have to reapply sunscreen throughout the day?

A: No sunscreen remains on your body all day, so yes, if you’re out in the sunshine, reapply every 90 minutes.

If you’re in and out of the water, reapply every 40 minutes. There’s really no such thing as a waterproof sunscreen. There is no magic potion that stays on and protects all day.

Q: Sunscreens make a lot of promises. Can you recommend some trusted brands?

A: Again, I use a sunscreen with a SPF of at least 50. I like Banana Boat, Coppertone and sunscreens that don’t damage reefs,  like Sun Bum, which is free of Octinoxate and Oxybenzone.

Oil of Olay and Neutrogena have good daily moisturizers with sunscreen. Yes, some of them need to be rubbed in a bit more and that’s a pain.  But so is skin cancer.

I use sprays but also carry a smaller bottle of the lotion for more control. Never spray around your face.

Q: How do we pick a good pair of sunglasses that truly protects our eyes?

A: You don’t have to spend a lot of money, but the cheap ones often don’t offer any protection. Look for sunglasses with UV filtering, which protects your eyes and prevents early wrinkles. Invest in three quality pairs.

Q: Do you recommend those SPF shirts and hats and where can we find them?

A: I can’t recommend SPF clothing enough. They’re one of the most effective forms of protection of damage and skin cancer. If you have a shirt with a rating of 30, that’s like wearing an SPF 30 sunscreen. I have some beautiful shirts I wear to work that no one would suspect have an SPF rating.

The ones made of more durable fabric, like bamboo are especially nice.

Something most people don’t know is that vibrant colors are best because they absorb more of the sun. Make sure you closely follow the washing instructions. Don’t use fabric softeners. They don’t wash out and they deteriorate the fabric. Don’t put SPF clothing in a hot dryer and don’t use a dryer sheet. I pop my clothes in the dryer on low heat.

You can find excellent SPF clothing and hats from places like Columbia Sportswear and REI. Every spring and early summer Costco comes out with lots of brightly colored SPF shirts, but you  have to nab them fast.

For hats, I don’t recommend ball caps because you’re totally exposed on the neck, ears and sides of your face.

Find a tightly woven hat with at least a three inch brim. Some are really cute with all these decorative holes, but UV rays are getting to the neck and head. Sunday Afternoons, online and at REI, has some great options.

Q: Let’s have a quick primer on hydration: How much water should we drink, is there such a thing as too much and when do we need those electrolytes?

A: Hydration is a necessity for overall health. Water keeps your organs happy, strengthens your immune system, helps you sleep better and maintains good joint and cell health.

So, think of the 8 x 8 rule. Drink eight, eight ounce glasses of water a day. That equals two liters or a half a gallon of water a day.

And yes, you can over hydrate. Your body can only absorb 1.5 liters an hour. Any more than that isn’t useful.

If you’re working and exercising in extreme heat for more than one hour and you’re sweating a lot, you’ll want to have a hydration drink with 200 to 250 milligrams of sodium per 12 ounces. There are plenty of electrolyte packets you can add to water, like the one I get at Costco, called IV Hydration. It has potassium, magnesium and calcium. I also like Powerade and Gatorade’s G2 because they have less sugar yet still give you a boost. G2’s Cucumber lime is my favorite.

You don’t need the additives in your water if you’re just taking a walk or working in the garden for a bit. Drink straight water instead.

A quick word about those “smart waters.” Watch the contents. There really aren’t many nutritional benefits. In many cases, it’s just expensive water.

Q: What are the best foods to eat before or after a long walk and other exercise.

A: If you eat 30-60 minutes before you exercise and work out, eat high carb or moderate protein and bring a low fat snack. If you’re eating a couple of hours before exercising, eat high carb, high protein and low fat.

Obviously, we’re going to steer clear of the bacon and egg McMuffins. Instead eat heart smart: oatmeal, eggs, fruits, whole foods, cottage cheese, Greek yogurt and nuts.

Protein bars have really improved in taste and effectiveness. My neighbor is a dietician and recommends Qwest Bars because of their high fiber. So, despite the number of carbs in some of the bars, if they have at least 15 grams of fiber, that’s good. Lots of people don’t know you can subtract that amount of fiber from the amount of carbs, which brings down the carb level.

I like brands like RX Bars. They use natural sugars, like dates, to sweeten.

Q: Older and younger people are at particular risk during high heat. What would you like to tell them?

A: Both kids and seniors are not as consciousness about staying hydrated and they should limit their time in hot temperatures. For children, I recommend juice boxes and water to drink. Whenever you can, add water sources to the yard, whether it’s a sprinkler or pool to keep the body temperature down.

Many seniors don’t like to drink water so at Marquis we make “spa water.” Adding any combination of lemon, cucumber or mint to water makes a fun and delicious drink. We also serve a variety of herbal ice teas or decaf coffee. Caffeinated coffee is dehydrating.

Q: How do you create safe outings for your Marquis residents, who are obviously in a vulnerable age group, yet still want to enjoy the outdoors?

A: Exactly! We never let a sunny day get the best of us. If we’re not out in the community we’re on the campus, having socials, pet visits, we’re in the veggie and herb gardens, making fresh salads or filling bird feeders. But we’re out early or later in the evening, in 30 minute increments, wearing wide brimmed hats and sunglasses and drinking spa water.

We also keep a list of residents who must be careful about sun exposure due to the medications they’re taking, like antihistamines, antifungals, blood pressure drugs, cholesterol medications, diuretics and chemotherapy medications.

Q: Any last tips for staying sun safe?

A: Actually, yes! If you’re buying a new car, make sure the windshield and other windows are UV filtering. Many people just have to examine their left arm to see the sun damage that can happen while driving without UV filtering windows.

When I’m exercising outside, I love wrapping a cold wet bandana around my forehead to keep cool and to prevent sunscreen from dripping in eyes. I slather on sunscreen with a 50 SPF, throw on an SPF shirt, pop on a three inch wide brimmed hat, my sunglasses, grab my hydration vessel and I’m good to go!

Thank you for joining us in staying sun safe! Learn more in the CDC article on how to Protect Yourself from the Dangers of Extreme Heat.

And don’t forget your pets! Providing water and bringing them inside out of the heat is critical. Learn more in the Multnomah County Animal Services article about Keeping Your Pets Cool in Hot Weather.