It’s that time of year again… time for my annual Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard about being active safely in the summer heat.
No doubt about it, summer is here. The kids are out of school, sports camps are underway, the playground is calling, and the lawn needs to be mowed. And it’s hot! But the high temperature and humidity doesn’t have to keep you from taking part in your favorite outdoor activities. By taking a few precautions, outdoor activities in the summer heat can be safe and enjoyable for your entire family.
1. Drink plenty of fluids
When it’s hot you have to sweat to lose heat and maintain your body temperature. High humidity makes sweating less effective, so you sweat even more. Losing lots of water through sweating can lead to dehydration. At the very least, you probably will feel fatigued but in more severe cases dizziness, low blood pressure, and fainting can occur.
For this reason it is important to drink plenty of fluids before, during and after your outdoor activity. As a general rule, a cup (8 oz.) of water every 15 minutes is sufficient for most people. Thirst is a good indicator of fluid needs, but you should take frequent breaks to rehydrate.
Make sure to remind kids to take breaks since they can get so busy playing that they forget. Water, juice, sports drinks, and other soft drinks are equally effective, so pick something you and your kids will drink.
2. Take breaks
The longer you are active the hotter you will get and you may feel more fatigued because of the heat. Taking frequent breaks will give you a chance to rest, cool down, and get something to drink.
3. Seek out shade
Being in the sun means that you will feel even hotter because you gain heat from the sun’s rays. Spending as much time as you can in the shade will help you stay cool. While this isn’t always practical for all activities, look for shady spots to take breaks.
Keep in mind that shady areas at will change throughout the day, so plan your trip to the park accordingly. Also be aware that direct sunlight can make outdoor surfaces like playground equipment very hot. This is another reason to find shady areas to play.
4. Pick cool clothes
Lighter colored clothing will reduce heat gain from the sun. Synthetic fabrics that wick sweat from the skin can help keep you feel cooler, too. And having more skin exposed will allow you to lose more heat.
5. Wear sunscreen
Sun exposure is the leading cause of skin cancer. Always use a broad-spectrum (both UVA and UVB rays) sunscreen and apply—and reapply—it according to the instructions. You should also protect your eyes by wearing a hat or sunglasses.
6. Avoid the hottest times of the day
Try to plan your outdoor activity in the morning or evening to avoid the hottest times of the day. Keep in mind that the highest temperatures often occur in the late afternoon or early evening, so right after work may not be the best time for outdoor activities. Early in the morning is probably the best time since it tends to be cooler and less humid.
You may not be able to plan your activities in the shade or when it is cooler. This is especially true for people who work outdoors. In these cases, drinking plenty of fluids and taking frequent breaks is particularly important.
These tips should help you and your family safely enjoy spending time outdoors this summer. And never underestimate the cooling power of a popsicle on a hot summer day!