How to: Stay healthy in a heatwave

It’s well and truly heatwave season here in the UK. Whether you're revelling in the sun or can’t wait for temperatures to cool down, there’s no doubt you're wondering what a heat health warning is. 

The Met Office issued an extreme weather warning for the first time in some areas of the UK on Monday. The amber warning, which warns people of the potential health effects of extreme heat, was introduced after all four UK nations recorded the hottest day of the year over the weekend. It will stay in place until Friday.

This week, because the sun is out, everyone is more at risk of dehydration, overheating, heat exhaustion and heatstroke. 

Although it’s lovely to see the sun, things have really been hotting up here in the UK over recent years. As a result of climate change, we are more likely than ever to see prolonged periods of hot weather. To help us stay safe, The Met Office launched a new-style extreme heat warning at the start of June.

The measures were put in place to reduce the number of heat-related deaths in the UK. In 2020, 2,256 excess deaths caused by hot weather were reported across the country - the highest amount since records began. 

Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are two potentially deadly heat-related illnesses that are easily preventable. To protect you today and in future heat waves, we’ve put together our top tips to stay safe in the sun: 

Stay out of the sun in the middle of the day: This might seem obvious, but it’s something that we often overlook when the excitement for a few days of sunshine takes over. In the UK, the sun’s UV rays are at their strongest between 11 am and 3 pm - this means that you are more than likely to burn. This timeframe varies wherever you are in the world. A great way to work out when the sun is at its strongest is ‘the shadow rule’. If your shadow is shorter than your height, you should apply suncream, find some shade or spend time indoors. 

Drink lots of water: Dehydration is one of the most common heat-related illnesses caused by high temperatures. It happens when your body loses more fluids than you consume. If you feel thirsty, light-headed, tired or have a dry mouth, lips and eyes you should drink lots of water. You can work out whether you are hydrated enough by checking that your wee is a pale yellow colour. If it’s not, you should drink more water, more frequently. 

Slow down when it’s hot: If you are exercising in high temperatures, you are at risk of experiencing heat exhaustion. This happens when your body cannot get rid of the extra heat you are making from whilst exercising. Although high temperatures do make exercising more of a risk, humidity is a culprit too. If it is too humid, your sweat can’t evaporate - this is one of the main ways your body cools down. Instead of going for a run in the sun, why not try some interval training instead? This will give your body time to rest. 

Check on people more vulnerable to heat: People over the age of 75, babies and very young children, those with long-term health conditions and people who take certain medications are more at risk of heat-related illnesses. Our entire body has to work harder in the sun because our blood flow has to increase and move close to the skin to keep us cool. This makes life harder for people with weaker hearts and lungs and those living with side effects of some medications. That's why you should keep an eye on vulnerable friends, relatives and neighbours during a heatwave. 

Here are some great resources for advice on how to stay safe in the sun:

Why some people suffer during heatwaves

Heatwave: how to cope in hot weather

NHS: Dehydration

NHS: Heat exhaustion and heatstroke

Heatwave Plan for England 

Information contained in this Articles page has been written by talkhealth based on available medical evidence. The content however should never be considered a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek medical advice before changing your treatment routine. talkhealth does not endorse any specific products, brands or treatments.

Information written by the talkhealth team

Last revised: 22 July 2021
Next review: 22 July 2024