Now that warmer weather will soon be here in the Triangle, I want to give you some helpful reminders about healthy summer living!
First and foremost is to re-emphasize the use of sunscreen. Using sunscreen should really be a daily activity, 365 days a year (I’ll let you skip leap day!) All of us should be using a sunscreen with SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of at least 15. In the cooler days of the year, use of sunscreen on our faces, ears, arms and hands is important. In the warmer days of summer, for those of us confident enough to go shirtless or wear shorts, additional sunscreen on that exposed skin is important. When swimming or perspiring, it’s important to re-apply sunscreen throughout the day. For a really good medical-grade, non-comedogenic sunscreen, try Elta-MD – it actually physically blocks the UV radiation! (It’s available at Azura, of course!)
Exercise, like sunscreen, should be a routine part of our lives regardless of the weather. However, if you are not in the habit of regular exercise; summer is the ideal time to start! I recommend a combination of cardiovascular and resistance exercises. Cardiovascular exercises are for your heart and blood pressure mostly, but are also good for your mental health – releasing those natural endorphins! Resistance exercises are for your muscles, bones and lean body mass, and, let’s face it, make us look good!
The easiest cardiovascular exercise is probably walking. We are blessed in the Triangle to have a lot of greenways on which to walk, run, jog and/or bike. Walking only requires a good pair of shoes! Walking briskly gets the heart beating faster and is easier on the joints. For those who want a little more speed in their life, jogging, running and bicycling are also very good cardiovascular exercises. Swimming can be cardiovascular too and has a resistance component, so it’s a great “two-for”.
The “easiest” or maybe “simplest” resistance exercises are body-weight exercises. Squats, push-ups, lunges and pull-ups are examples of body-weight exercises. Only the pull-ups need any equipment (or a stout tree branch)! Alternatively, one can use free weights, resistance bands or machines for resistance training. Resistance training uses skeletal muscles and bones and that use makes muscle and bone stronger. Muscle is more efficient at burning calories than almost any other body tissue. Though resistance exercises cannot “turn fat into muscle,” they can help reduce fat by burning calories; thus, fat shrinks and muscles grow. Though a pound is a pound; a pound of muscle is denser than a pound of fat and takes up less space. The classic example is comparing a pound of lead and a pound of feathers. When you are fit, it’s not so important what the number on the scales says, it’s more important how your clothes fit, how you feel, and how you look.
Summer sometimes brings excessive heat and sometimes, poor air-quality. Be sure to stay hydrated on those super-hot days and if you have respiratory problems, pay attention to air quality and stay indoors, if needed. Exercising or working in the summer heat can lead to excessive perspiration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke – stay hydrated, stay cool when possible and recognize the signs and symptoms of heat-related problems: confusion, dizziness, fatigue, fainting, headaches, muscle or abdominal cramps, dark urine and nausea, vomiting or diarrhea.
Good nutrition is another important year-round routine. However, it’s easier to find fresh fruits and vegetables in the summer than any other time of the year. Fresh fruits and vegetables have slightly more nutrition than canned or frozen, and taste better, in my opinion! If you don’t or can’t grow your own, there are a lot of farmer’s markets and fruit/vegetable stands around in the Triangle.
Lastly, I want to talk about water safety. Warmer weather generally includes more water activity, whether it’s fishing, swimming, water-skiing, jet-skiing or boating. If you can’t swim, I highly recommend lessons. Lessons are available at Triangle Swim School, Triangle Aquatic Center and Cary Family YMCA, to mention a few places. If you can swim, don’t get too cocky at the beach as rip currents can overcome even the best swimmers. If you like to swim in the ocean, learn how to swim if you are ever caught in a rip current – do not swim against the rip current, swim parallel to the shore until you are out of the rip-current, then swim towards shore: stay calm and don’t panic! If you are boating, whether you can swim or not, be sure that there are enough life-vests for everyone on the boat and know how to put the life vest on. If you like to swim in a pool, don’t swim alone. Regardless of what water activity you enjoy, be very mindful about not drinking too much alcohol when you are enjoying the water – most accidental drowning and boat accidents involve alcohol.
Have a safe, healthy and enjoyable summer!
Craig A. Stevens, MD