Summertime brings it’s own health opportunities and challenges. Make plans for a healthier summer with these suggestions.
Summer means a break from school for the kids and the hectic routines of the academic year for parents. It’s a wonderful opportunity to start, restart or jump-start healthy family routines. Families thrive on quality time spent together. It strengthens relationships and reduces stress. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends at least 30 minutes a day of sustained physical activity for adults and 60 minutes each day for children. What better way to set a good example of the benefits of a healthy lifestyle than engaging your kids in outdoor activities together? Turn off the TV, shut down the devices and get out for a hike.
Vitamin D deficiency leads to disorders in bone health, imbalance in the elderly and may be linked to heart problems and cancer, among other maladies. It is also very common. Exposure to sunlight contributes to healthy vitamin D levels. We have the advantage of living in beautiful Southwest Colorado where sun is plentiful. Take advantage of warmer weather to get outside and enjoy the sun.
Of course, there are safe ways to enjoy the sun in abundance. Prolonged unprotected sun exposure cannot only lead to painful sunburn, over time ultraviolet radiation can also injure the skin. This effect is cumulative as damage to DNA repair mechanisms in skin cells accumulates. Exposure to ultraviolet radiation is the leading risk factor for certain types of skin cancer. This risk can be greatly reduced by use of sunscreen. For maximum benefit, use sunscreen with a sun protection factor of at least 15 and apply regularly, especially when enjoying water activities.
In our hot, dry climate, the combination of dehydration and overheating can not only ruin a day of outdoor activity, it can be dangerous. Staying well-hydrated means paying close attention to fluid intake, especially during the hottest hours of the day and/or during strenuous physical activity. In most instances, water is the best choice as juices, sports drinks and soda contain significant amounts of sugar, which is not needed. Keep in mind that alcohol can contribute to dehydration by stimulating urination.
Symptoms of dehydration include headache, fatigue, irritability, nausea and dizziness. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms in the heat of the day, you are already behind. Take a break, seek shade and rehydrate before resuming activity. The combination of heat, exertion and dehydration can lead to heat stroke, a potentially fatal condition. If you are headed out for a prolonged hike or bike ride, be sure to take plenty of water.
If your outdoor activities involve water fun, be sure to consider appropriate safety precautions. Never swim behind a boat whose motor is running. Not only is there risk of injury from the rotor, but also harmful fumes from the engine can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning. To reduce the risk of drowning, never leave children unattended near the water. To further reduce the risk of drowning, always wear a life vest when on the lake or river.
Southwest Colorado has so many outdoor activities to offer. Have a safe and active summer.
Dr. Matthew A. Clark is a board-certified physician in internal medicine and pediatrics practicing at the Ute Mountain Ute Health Center in Towaoc.