Brush up on your sun smarts and safe summer workouts will be no sweat.
Don’t spoil the disease-fighting, mood-boosting benefits of outdoor exercise with a carefree attitude about sun damage and dehydration. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, five or more sunburns (over the course of a lifetime, not a single summer) double your risk of melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer. Shield yourself from damaging UV rays — and ward off sun sickness — with these nine sun safety tips for summer walks, runs, rides, and water workouts.
Slather on a shot of SPF
Use a broad-spectrum sweat-proof sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher for outdoor exercising, says Brian B. Adams, MD, director of the University of Cincinnati’s Sports Dermatology Clinic.
“Remember, though, that no sunscreen withstands intense workouts for prolonged periods,” he says.
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Under conditions of extreme sweating or during in-water workouts, SPF should be reapplied every 45 to 60 minutes. With light outdoor exercise or tasks like gardening and yard work, reapply sunscreen every 2 hours, says Colleen Doyle, RD, director of nutrition and physical activity for the American Cancer Society. One ounce (enough to fill a shot glass) should cover the arms, legs, neck, and face of the average adult, she says.
Up your gear’s UPF
“Athletic clothing should not be cotton, but rather synthetic moisture-wicking clothing that pulls away sweat and keeps your skin cool and dry,” says Adams. “Darker-colored clothing blocks more UV rays than white, so go for the darker colors.” Although darker colors absorb more heat, the sweat-wicking fabric will balance things out and keep you cool. Also look for athletic clothing with built-in sunblock, labeled with an ultraviolet protection factor, or UPF, says Adams, adding that you can also wash your clothing with a UPF enhancer. Wear longer shorts and sleeves instead of exercising shirtless or in a sports bra, advises Doyle.
Don’t forget your scalp
Two easy places to forget SPF: your hairline and your scalp. While the best way to shade your face, neck, and head from the sun is with a wide-brimmed hat, that’s not practical to wear during a workout. Stick to a breathable baseball-cap style in a color and fabric that offers sun protection. “Dark hats are preferable, but white hats with added UPF work well, too,” says Adams. And don’t forget to use sunscreen on your ears.
Pick serious shades
Don’t overlook your eyes when it comes to UV-ray exposure. Sun damage can contribute to cataracts, photokeratitis (a temporary but painful corneal burn), and basal cell carcinoma on the eyelids. Look for stickers on lenses indicating that the sunglasses block 99% to 100 percent of both UVA and UVB rays, says Doyle. Despite their tempting price tags, don’t pick sunglasses labeled “cosmetic,” or those that don’t provide information about their level of sun protection, she adds.
Balance fluid intake and loss
To ward off dehydration, Doyle recommends this plan of attack: Drink 2 to 3 cups of water (if exercise exceeds an hour, gulp a sports drink to replace electrolytes) 1 to 2 hours before a workout. Drink another cup 15 minutes before heading out. After exercise, continue to drink water until your urine is pale. If training for an endurance event, drink a cup of water or sports drink every 15 to 20 minutes during activity and weigh yourself before and after your workout, then drink 2 to 3 cups of fluid per pound lost.
Halt for heat exhaustion
Even worse than dehydration is heat exhaustion, which occurs when the body is low on fluids and electrolytes and can’t produce enough sweat to cool itself down, says Doyle. Symptoms include weakness, dizziness, headache, nausea, paleness, skin that feels cool and moist, and in some cases, fainting. Heat exhaustion can typically be treated by replacing fluids and electrolytes and reducing exercise intensity. While running through a sprinkler or splashing water in your face feels good when you’re hot and exhausted, the only way to really cool down is to get fluids inside you, warns Doyle.
Know heat stroke symptoms
You don’t have to be an 80-year-old midday jogger to suffer a heat stroke — it can happen to anyone, says Doyle. Symptoms can include skin that feels red, hot, and dry; anxiety; disorientation; trouble breathing; elevated heart rate; sweating heavily or not at all; and in extreme cases, seizures or unconsciousness. More severe than dehydration or heat exhaustion, a heat stroke is a medical emergency and requires a 911 call, Doyle says.
Schedule around the sun
The sun is highest — and gives off the most intense UV rays — between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. If possible, avoid outdoor exercise during this window of time, advises Doyle. To test the strength of the sun, try this trick: If your shadow is shorter than you are, the sun’s rays are at their strongest, so be especially vigilant, warns Doyle. Get up early and exercise before the sun is high, or go out later in the evening when it starts to cool off, she suggests. Also check out the UV Index — a 1 to 11+ measure of the strength of the sun’s UV radiation — for conditions on a given day.
Avoid reflective surfaces
While the worst outdoor environment for reflecting sun back up onto your face is snow, be mindful that sand, tennis courts, and water are also reflective, says Adams. “An athlete may have a false sense of security if he or she is wearing a hat,” he says. “The hat does a good job of blocking the rays directly overhead, but it does nothing to block the reflected rays from the playing surface.”
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