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This July has been a record-breaking scorcher across North America, with temperatures hot enough to make a winter-hardy, summer-foolish Canadian sizzle.

Eventually, we may be able to pop a pill to cool down – scientists announced a discovery to that effect earlier this year. But for now, the best medicine for a hot day is to simply slow down. The consequences of not taking the right precautions are serious: There were 300 heat-related deaths during Vancouver's 2009 heat wave and one in Montreal in 2010. "My number one tip is listen to your body," says Health Canada's Fiona Frappier, a scientist with the Climate Change and Health division, who advises watching for symptoms of heat exhaustion such as breathing changes and nausea.

Thanks to the blazing summer sun, you don't have to feel guilty about indulging in the following five activities:

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It's best to avoid large, meaty meals, which increase the metabolic heat your body uses to digest food. Better to eat in small doses – along with regularly chugging water, even when you aren't thirsty. Stick to fruit and vegetables with a higher water content and avoid sugary or salty foods. (You can experiment with a spicy dish or hot drink, as they do in countries such as India, which may fire up the body's sweat mechanism, although Dr. Frappier cautions that it doesn't work for everyone.) And while Health Canada recommends against (heat wave or not) vodka-shot benders (the higher the alcohol, the lower the water content), you can still toast cottage life with a beer or sangria.

Hanging out at the mall

The best invention during a heat wave is the air conditioner. (The science is still out on fans: Although they help circulate cooler air, sitting directly in front of one in high heat is not recommended.) But air conditioners consume loads of electricity, so it's better for the environment if you find a mall or movie theatre to spend the day. You can always doze during that third viewing of Ice Age: Continental Drift.


Speaking of dozing, there's a reason why the siesta was adopted in warm climates. You shouldn't do much in the middle of the day, when the sun is at its highest. For the perfect nap, the U.S. National Sleep Foundation recommends taking a cool shower or wetting your hair before you lie down. Camp out in your living room or basement, which is likely to be the coolest spot in the house.

Staying up late (kids too)

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A heat wave is the best time to be a night owl. It's also a better time for your kids to burn off energy. Children are especially susceptible to heat stroke, since they lose fluid more quickly than adults, play outside more and are more likely to forget to drink water.

Being lazy

Studies say we are busier than ever – with many of us even passing on taking vacations. But rushing will just get you hot and bothered. If you work outdoors, take regular breaks (and make sure your kid's camp is doing the same.) If you live in an air-conditioned bubble, be mindful that your body will be less prepared for standing on the sidelines all day at a soccer tournament. Says Dr. Frappier: "One of the most protective things you can do in the heat is just rest and take it easy."

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About the Author

Erin Anderssen writes about mental health, social policy and family issues. More


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