Summer is our carefree season, especially when it comes to workouts. Longer days give us more time to explore outside, warmer weather means we need fewer layers and open spaces give more options for group fun – disk golf anyone? But there’s a serious side to this summer loving. Here’s what you need to know to protect yourself against the hidden dangers of summer workouts.
“We tend to forget some of the season’s perils and common sense ways to avoid or treat them,” said Dr. Jennifer Caudle, a family physician and faculty member at Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine. Wondering what makes the list? Here are the top 5!
Hidden danger #1 – Dehydration
Lots of us know we need to stay hydrated when exercising. But did you know the best way to avoid dehydration is to prepare well in advance of your workout? Like, we’re talking a full day in advance, according to Florida State University (FSU) associate professor Susan Shelton. “Pay close attention to the heat index, humidity and hydration. Most people think about hydrating during exercise, which is important, but really hydration should begin the day or days preceding exercise.”
If you’re unsure about whether you’ve taken in enough fluids, check your pee. Light-coloured (think lemonade) is good, but dark urine needs you need more fluids. Water is the best way to hydrate, says SFU professor Lynn Panton, who also offers this tidbit for protecting yourself. “Another good rule of thumb is to weigh yourself before and after you exercise. For every pound lost you should drink a pint of water. If you feel dizzy, light headed or nauseous, quit exercising, get out of the sun and drink plenty of water.”
Hidden danger #2 – Bugs
It’s been a few years since we’ve been worried about things like the Zika virus, but the danger is still present in some places. If you’re on vacation and plan to work out, search that country’s tourism website to see what you may need to know to protect yourself. Generally, using bug repellent with DEET, and keeping your body covered is a good first layer of defence against bug bites.
That goes for Lyme disease too, still a clear and present danger everywhere, including Canada. Be mindful of where you plan to hike and/or run during the summer, trying to avoid places where ticks thrive like in brush and dense ground cover. If you’re in the woods, stay on well-marked paths.
If you do happen to get bit Dr. Caudle says, “Use tweezers or your fingers to remove a tick by firmly grabbing it as close to the skin as possible and pulling it straight out. Wash your hands and the site of the tick bite with soap and water. Contact your physician if the tick has been on the skin more than 24 hours, if part of the tick stayed in the skin after removal, or if you notice symptoms such as a ‘bull’s eye’ rash, fatigue, headache, stiff neck, fever, and muscle and joint pain.”
For more information, check out the Global Lyme Alliance, an excellent resource for all things tick-related.
Hidden danger #3 – Overheating
It’s important to know that there are two types of overheating, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. “They can occur suddenly and can be life-threatening,” Dr. Caudle said, so it’s important to recognize their differences.
Those with heat exhaustion may perspire heavily and may feel dizzy, weak or nauseous, says Dr. Caudle, “but should recover with rest in a shaded or air-conditioned area, with supportive measures, such as drinks of cool water and cool and wet cloths applied directly to the skin.”
Heat stroke, on the other hand, is a more life-threatening condition, she says. “Heat stroke may cause similar symptoms as heat exhaustion, but the person may not sweat and will have mental status changes, such as confusion or unconsciousness. If you suspect heat stroke, call 911 or seek immediate medical attention.”
The best way to stay safe is to drink plenty of water, take breaks often, exercise before sunrise or after sunset, and dress appropriately. According to professor Panton, an exercise and nutrition expert, “Heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke. If you are dripping with sweat, that means your body is not cooling, so wear clothing that allows heat loss and your sweat to evaporate. Do not wear plastic clothing or sweatshirts and pants when exercising in the heat. You are just losing water weight and that can be very dangerous.”
If you’re an early bird, then exercising before sunrise may be a way to avoid overheating, but keep in mind that humidity can still be an issue in the dog days of summer, making overheating a possibility still. Same goes for end-of-day exercising. Just because the sun’s gone down, doesn’t mean danger levels have too. Plan accordingly.
Hidden danger #4 – Sunburn
Of all the hidden dangers of summer workouts, getting burnt is the easiest to avoid. Wear sunscreen! It’s really that simple. The general rule is to wear a minimum of SPF 30, apply it 20 minutes before you head outdoors and then reapply every two hours or after swimming, even if you think it is waterproof.
According to Toronto dermatologist Dr. Julia Carroll, “There’s actually no such thing as a waterproof sunscreen; sunscreens are only made to be water resistant. On some products you’ll see ‘water resistant 40’ or ‘water resistant 80.’ What those numbers mean, is that it’s water resistant up to 40 minutes or 80 minutes. After that, you need to reapply. Also, you need to reapply after you get swim and towel off.”
If you still do get burnt and hey, no judgment – stuff happens. Then the best course of action is to drink plenty of fluids and “take acetaminophen or ibuprofen and apply aloe lotion to the burned area,” says Dr. Caudle.
Hidden danger #5 – Poisonous plants
Were you paying attention in Girl Guides when talk turn to poisonous plants? Well, if you need a refresher, here it is: The most common summer plant dangers in Canada are poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac. They grow in wooded and marshy areas. If you come into contact with the toxic sap of any these plants you’ll end up with a nasty rash, usually 12 or so hours after first exposure. For most people, you rash will cause excessive itchiness, redness and blisters and it could last for days.
Dr. Caudle’s advice is to wash the affected area with soap and cool water as soon as possible. After that, “Apply calamine lotion or an over‑the‑counter antihistamine cream to soothe itching. Seek medical attention if a fever develops or the rash spreads to the eyes, mouth or genitals, or if the rash covers a large part of your body.”
For more information, or to familiarize yourself with what these plants looks like, check out the University of Alberta’s Safety Information Site.