How extreme heat affects the brain + how to prevent any damage

In this podcast (#508) and blog, I talk about keeping our brains and bodies healthy when it’s extremely hot outside. 

Although there still needs to be more research on how extreme temperatures affect the brain, they definitely have a negative impact with prolonged periods of heat exposure. Why? Temperature is one the main driver of chemical reactions, so changes in temperature affect the biochemistry of the brain and body.  

Short bursts of high heat exposure, like having a sauna, are good for you and can even build up your resilience and improve your focus. However, longer periods of extreme heat are potentially problematic as the changes in brain chemistry can cause neurons to either fire too fast or too slowly, sometimes even going “silent”, which can affect how a person thinks, recalls, feels, and sleeps. This, in turn, can make someone more tired, overwhelmed, aggressive, and irritable, and can further drains the energy from the brain and body, making us feel even worse.

This can happen to anyone, including our children. If they are exposed to extreme heat, they can become tired irritable, and the weather can affect their concentration, memory, processing, and sleeping patterns. They may also feel more lethargic, flat or depressed.

Here are some ways we can all try to keep a ‘cool head’ in the summer heat, improving our mood and memory:  

  • Practice extreme temperature contrasts (in a safe environment while listening to your brain and body). This means exposing yourself to high and low temperatures for a limited period to build up your resilience. For example, if you are at the gym, use the sauna or steam room for a few minutes, then take a cold shower or use the cold plunge pool for a few minutes. 
  • When possible, keep your home cool, especially at night to help you sleep. Use the AC or fans to do this. 
  • Suck on ice when you feel too warm or need to spend some time outside in the heat. 
  • Take cold showers for 1-3 minutes when possible.
  • If you can, take an ice bath. 
  • If you have access to a pool/lake/river/ocean/swimming area, enjoy some time outdoors in the water, but make sure to wear a lot of sunblock and don’t stay outdoors too long if the temperatures are very high! 

When it comes to our children, we need to acknowledge how vulnerable they are to extreme temperature changes. We to need think of ways we can keep them cool and safe inside, while making sure they have plenty to do so their mental and physical health isn’t impacted by being indoors for long periods of time. Some ways to do this are:

  • Make sure your children are eating healthy so that the brain gets all the nutrients it needs. But don’t just make them food—get your children involved in preparing their meals! A fun way to do this is to make frozen yogurt together with friends and family. Add frozen berries, bananas, nuts, granola and so on. These are all great foods to help boost their metabolism and blood flow to the brain, and help cool their body temperature down. 
  • When you are ready to eat, read a great story together out loud that stimulates your child’s imagination, which in turn helps recharge the brain from the draining heat. In fact, reading a book that’s above your child’s grade level—in a cool room—can help revitalize their brain as it challenges their creativity and imagination.
  • Start a new indoor hobby like painting, wall art, or learning a new language to help keep your children’s brains stimulated and active while indoors.
  • Manage your kids’ time online amid high temperatures. Encourage them to read, play with their toys, build blanket and pillow forts and so on instead of just spending time on social media or watching TV all day.
  • Make sure their sleeping environment is as cool as possible, so that they get enough rest. 
  • If they want to play, find places that have indoor play areas (such as indoor trampoline parks), or places that offer indoor sports (like basketball). You can even take them to the gym with you if they have a kid-friendly area or pool.  

For more on keeping cool and staying healthy in extreme heat conditions, listen to my podcast (episode #508). If you enjoy listening to my podcast, please consider leaving a 5-star review and subscribing. And keep sharing episodes with friends and family and on social media. (Don’t forget to tag me so I can see your posts!).         

This podcast is sponsored by: 

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Podcast Highlights

0:15 Extreme temperatures & the brain 

1:00 What extreme heat can do to the brain & body

1:28 Ways to keep cool during a heat wave 

4:30 What happens in the brain when we are exposed to high temperatures for long periods of time 

7:00 Ways you & your children can cool down in the summertime 

10:29 How to keep your child’s brain stimulated while spending time indoors  

This podcast and blog are for educational purposes only and are not intended as medical advice. We always encourage each person to make the decision that seems best for their situation with the guidance of a medical professional. 

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