Maintaining your form while keeping your cool can seem impossible in a hot and humid Hong Kong. Kate Farr gets the lowdown from three experts on what you can do to stay healthy in the heat.
It’s been a long, hot summer, with temperatures reaching a sweltering 36ºC in June, and the heat shows no real signs of letting up. Weather extremities are always difficult to deal with, and humidity combined with heat is the last thing most of us like to see on any forecast.
One solution is to leave Hong Kong over the summer (as many a DB family does) but now, with the new school year starting mid-month, just about everyone’s back… and back fighting the heat. So, what’s the best way forward? A few simple life hacks can help you cope – and keep you fit and active too.
“Keep hydrated, of course, but avoid sparkling water and soft drinks. They may feel cold but do in fact heat the body,” opens Dr Shveta Chhoker, Ayurvedic consultant at Shakti Healing Circle, the holistic healing centre in Central run by longterm DB residents Stephen and Pervin Clasper.
Ayurveda is an ancient holistic practice that focuses on the balance between body, mind and spirit to achieve optimal wellness, and Dr Shveta explains that maintaining a comfortable temperature starts with what we consume.
Dr Shveta suggests coconut water as an excellent alternative to fizzy drinks, as it not only works to hydrate, but also replaces minerals lost through sweat. Another simple swap? “A squeezed lemon in water with some mint is also ideal. The lemon delivers vitamin C and keeps us nourished, while the mint is cooling and leaves us replenished for longer.”
Dr Shveta also advises caution when it comes to tempting summer barbecues. “Avoid or cut down on meat such as beef and lamb, as they heat the body.” Instead, she recommends filling your plate with healthier sides. “Eat more water-based leafy vegetables such as lettuce, and more fruit and vegetables in general during the hot summer months.” And for those who crave a sweet treat? “Watermelon is ideal in the summer heat, either taken as it comes, or in a smoothie.”
Of course, even with the most careful preparation, it’s easy to feel overheated – particularly after a workout or a day at the beach. When a cool shower just isn’t cutting it, Dr Shveta suggests looking to your store cupboard for some fail-safe remedies that are safe, effective and good enough to eat.
“For heat rashes, apply a paste made from coconut oil, sandalwood and turmeric,” she says. “If you suffer from prickly heat, you can also DIY your own cooling cure with a mixture of rosewater, aloe vera and plain yoghurt.”
And what of exercising outdoors, is it something we should avoid in hot weather? Co-founder of the weekly DB running club The Discovery Run, and owner of personal training and fitness business d.BeFit, Katia Kucher knows all too well that training in the heat can often feel like a major challenge. “Heat is a runner’s enemy. No matter how much we hydrate, our body is affected by the constant hot weather; our performance decreases and our stamina levels go down,” she says.
However, Katia explains that there are also surprising benefits to lacing up those trainers – even when it’s 30ºC outside. “Training in the heat properly can have extraordinary effects. Heat training can increase the rate of perspiration, increase a runner’s blood plasma volume (which leads to better cardiovascular fitness), reduce overall core temperature, reduce blood lactate and even increase skeletal muscle force.”
While she believes that athletes can benefit from hot-weather training, Katia stresses that workouts must be carefully planned. “When training in hot weather – and especially high humidity – our body quickly gets depleted of basic minerals and electrolytes like sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium.” She recommends including electrolytes in drinking water and drinking a minimum of 200 to 350 millilitres of liquid every 10 to 20 minutes. She also recommends caution with sunscreen, explaining, “Some creams clog pores, preventing the skin’s natural ability to sweat and cool, so it’s also important to test the type of sunscreen you use.”
Katia’s thoughts are echoed by her fellow The Discovery Run cofounder, and owner of Beyond the Line endurance coaching and consulting, Olivier Baillet. “The people I coach are very performance-oriented and driven, but in the heat, they all slow down,” he says. “Recovery takes longer as the body has to work more to adapt to the hot conditions.
“Something important to remember is that in Hong Kong, what makes exercise so hard in summer is not really the temperature, but the humidity,” Olivier adds. “Running in 30ºC and 80% humidity in Hong Kong would smash most of us, while running in 30ºC in Australia, Europe or America, where humidity levels are lower, is much more bearable.”
Olivier recommends approaching hot-weather workouts with pragmatism. “Running at the hottest time of the day is, in general, counterproductive – the stress on the body created by that kind of effort is too high. Training in the morning or evening in Hong Kong is hard enough!”
Olivier also highlights the importance of preparation to get the most out of your workout. “If you run, make sure you leave water at some places. Wear light clothes but remember that naked skin may not be the best option; some garments do keep you cooler than bare skin and protect you from the sun. Wear a hat and sunglasses. And be prepared to cut the workout short if you start to feel dizzy or if discomfort becomes too hard to cope with.”
Both Katia and Olivier recommend the use of ice to maintain a comfortable temperature during workouts. Katia explains, “An easy way is to use a buff, fill it with ice and put it around the neck. The blood circulating through that artery is eventually transported to the heart and the entire body. Another area with a major artery near the skin’s surface is the wrist, so wearing a cooling wristband around the wrist will have a similar effect.”
Olivier adds, “In races, if ice is available, I make sure I keep it in my cap, in my hands and over my kidneys. But these tricks are only when I want to be able to push really hard into the heat for a long time, which is not something I do every day.”
Both athletes agree that if the heat is simply too much to face, it’s better to find an alternative that works for you. Olivier says, “During the summer months, I often train indoors. I run at the gym, bike at home on the turbo trainer, and avoid the outdoor pools altogether.” So, with just a little careful planning, there’s no reason to let your fitness slide as you wait for temperatures to drop.
Photos by Baljit Gidwani – www.evoqueportraits.com, and Grace RutherfordTags: health, beat the heat, tips to stay healthy during summer, ayurveda, katia kucher, dr shveta chhoker, olivier baillet, how weather workouts