'Four to five light meals a day': Italy's official advice for surviving the heat

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'Four to five light meals a day': Italy's official advice for surviving the heat
People cool off at a public drinking fountain in Rome. Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP

As the mercury rises in Italy, here's the Italian health ministry's official advice for staying safe this summer.


Summer is here and extreme heat is increasingly common across Italy, with heatwaves becoming more frequent and intense in recent years.

Whether you're living, working or just travelling here, you'll need to take care in high temperatures.

The Italian health ministry notes that heatwave conditions "pose a risk to the health of the population."

"Prolonged exposure to high temperatures can cause mild ailments, such as cramps, fainting, or swelling, or more serious ones, such as heat stroke and dehydration," it states. "Extreme heat can lead to a worsening of the health conditions of people with pre-existing chronic illnesses."

The ministry's website advises people to take the following precautions in order to keep cool and stay safe:

Spend the afternoon indoors

The health ministry's website advises staying inside between the hours of 11am to 6pm, when the sun is at its most intense.

While it's tempting when you're travelling to try and make the most of every minute, be sensible with your schedule: plan to hit museums, shops, restaurants or other indoor attractions in the afternoon and save outdoor sights for the early morning or evening, especially if they involve a lot of walking or don't offer shade – Pompeii, we're looking at you.

Avoid physical exertion

Unless you plan to get up very early or stay up very late, it's just too hot to go for your usual run or mow the lawn this week. Or to schlep around Roman ruins, for that matter.


The one exception might just be swimming: lucky for us, Italy has more beaches, lakes and rivers to bathe in than any other country in Europe.

READ ALSO: Fried eggs and sweaty underpants: 10 phrases for complaining about the heat like an Italian

Photo: Oliver Moran/AFP


Dress appropriately

Wear light, loose clothing made of natural fibres like cotton. (And bear in mind that certain sights, such as St Peter's Basilica or the Duomo in Florence, have dress codes that forbid entering with bare thighs or shoulders: long dresses or trousers are a safer bet, and save on sun cream too.)

Take a hat and sunglasses when you go outside, and always use high-factor sunscreen on any exposed skin.

Cool off when you're out and about

Use cold water to splash your face and arms, or place a damp cloth on the back of your neck.

You're not, repeat not, allowed to bathe in any of Italy's historic fountains (and visitors who break this rule regularly face heavy fines), but you will find a steady supply of running water from plentiful public drinking fountains.


Drink water, then drink some more

The health ministry recommends drinking at least two litres of water a day, even if you don't feel like it.

If you're not sure whether water from a public fountain is safe to drink, look for signs saying "acqua non potabile" (non-drinking water): most are suitable for drinking, so usually the exceptions are marked. 

Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP


Avoid drinking alcohol or caffeinated drinks, and eat food with a high water content such as watermelon, strawberries, cucumbers and tomatoes - think of it as another excuse to sample more of Italy's delicious fresh produce.

Take care in the car

Check the traffic report before setting off to see whether you're likely to be stuck in gridlock under the full sun. Avoid driving during the heat of the day unless your vehicle has air conditioning, and make sure you carry extra water for the journey.

Never leave anyone, human or animal, in a car parked in the sun. And when you're returning to a hot parked car, air it out or put on the air conditioning before setting off, and check that child seats aren't too hot to sit in.

Keep the house cool

Even if you don't have air conditioning, take some old-fashioned precautions: open the windows at night or first thing in the morning, but keep them closed during the day when it's cooler indoors than it is outside. And close the blinds or shutters over windows that get the sun directly.

Photo: Carlo Hermann/AFP

If you do have an air conditioner, don't overdo it: even if you're tempted to turn your apartment into a fridge, the Health Ministry says the optimum indoor temperature is 24-26 degrees C. Italy is also at greater risk of power shortages in summer when everyone's using the AC, so be considerate and keep your usage to the minimum to help reduce the strain on the system.

Avoid using the oven, hobs, iron or any other appliance that produces heat. But do consider switching on a dehumidifier: in highly humid Italy, it can make a surprising difference to the temperature you feel.

Eat light

Of course you've come to Italy to eat. But do try not to overdo it on the pizza and pasta this week, and don't even think of tackling a full antipasto–primo–secondo.

It's better when it's hot to eat light and fresh – sample Italy's wide range of vegetable side dishes, or order fresh fruit and salad. But the good news is that you can do it more often: the health ministry recommends eating four to five small meals a day.

It doesn't say anything about gelato, but we assume that it's acceptable – nay, essential – at this time of year.

Follow the example of the meerkats at Rome’s Bioparco zoo and eat plenty of fresh watermelon this summer. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP

Prepare for pollution

Air quality typically worsens during heatwaves, as chemicals and emissions in the air are heated into a noxious smog. People with respiratory problems or allergies should be aware that their conditions may be aggravated, and everybody should avoid spending time in high-traffic areas in the heat of the day.

Bear in mind too that smog gathers in parks and other green spaces in big cities, so don't assume it's safe to spend the day there. 

Look after your medication.

Check the instructions of any pharmaceuticals for the temperature they should be stored at, and if necessary put them in the fridge.

Most drugs need to be kept below 30 degrees at least, so make sure you never leave medication in a parked vehicle and if you're travelling, pack it in your hand luggage so you can keep a closer eye on how hot it's getting.

Look after each other.

Elderly people and young children are most at risk from extreme heat. Check in on neighbours and relatives, especially if they live alone.

You can find the health ministry's latest alerts for where in Italy heatwaves are likely here.



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