Beat the Heat Bloat

Swimming is the most efficient exercise to cool off. (Photo by gokoroko)

It happens to most of us when traveling to the tropics. You step off the plane and the heat immediately hits you. It feels like your favorite blanket at first, familiar, nurturing. And then you notice your shoes are a little tighter and it's harder to take your rings off. You spend the next few days, or even the entire visit, a slightly larger version of yourself. It's a temporary discomfort and not that unusual to the “unacclimated” traveler.

When we are in hot or humid climates, it is a natural reaction for the blood vessels to widen. This leads to swelling, which is a mechanism our bodies use to help us cool down. We also tend to perspire more heavily for the same reasons and can become salt-depleted as a result. The loss of salt from the circulation can reduce the ability of the veins to draw blood back in from the tissues, leaving the fluid in the limbs, causing them to swell. It does not help that the veins are dilated because of the heat.

Drink plenty of water. (Photo by Jan Willem)

When we remain seated for long periods of time without exercising the legs or if one becomes relatively immobile for whatever reason, the lack of muscular action may also cause swelling of the legs to occur. Therefore, the combination of a hot climate and relative inactivity makes the ideal scenario for lower limb swelling. Exercising the legs and elevating them will help, as will ensuring an adequate salt intake.

When we are in hot or humid climates, it is a natural reaction for the blood vessels to widen. This leads to swelling, which is a mechanism our bodies use to help us cool down.

There are ways one can try to reduce bloating discomfort:

  1. The most obvious solution would be to stay cool wherever and whenever possible. In between finding refuge in air-conditioned rooms and cars, press a cold glass or ice against your pulse points (wrist, temples) to cool off. 
  2. Drink plenty of water (you know that rule about 8-10 glasses a day). According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, your body requires more water when the whether is hot. If water is too bland for you, squeeze citrus like calamansi to add flavor. You'll also benefit from the juice for its high content of vitamin C and antioxidant properties. 
  3. Exercise. You might think that moving around would only cause your body to heat up. A less rigorous approach such as walking is an excellent way to get the blood flowing without overheating you. Walking also helps veins in the legs move blood back to the heart. If being outside poses discomfort because of the heat, find an indoor air-conditioned gym with a treadmill or bicycle. Swimming laps is the most efficient way to exercise and cool off at the same time.
  4. Avoid foods that have high salt or fat content. Fried, canned or overcooked foods are hard for your body to process, leading to bloat. An alternative would be to eat foods that are fresh and have not come out of a can, box or package.
  5. Wear compression or support garments before you step on the plane to prevent fluids from pooling in your arms and legs. Every hour or so get out of your seat and move around the airplane. Prolonged inactivity slows circulation, allowing small clots to form in legs and feet, which you want to avoid.
  6. Massage the areas where you are swollen to encourage movement of fluid out of the swollen tissue. Better yet, have someone else massage you so that you can lie down and the blood flow will not be inhibited.
  7. Identify and treat underlying causes of swelling in addition to heat. Always check with your doctor if you are experiencing leg swelling or any other swelling that is unusual. If hot weather is not the cause, swelling could be indicative of a greater health issue.


Imelda Oppenheim

Imelda Oppenheim

Imelda Oppenheim is an ACE Certified Personal Fitness Trainer in the San Francisco Bay Area. She can be reached at