Many of us have already experienced the crazy rise and fall of temperatures throughout the spring this year. One thing, though, is for sure as we look forward to the summer season – we will likely experience more hot days than cool ones for the next couple of months. And, depending on where you are, the humidity that accompanies the heat can be brutal.
While we may remember enjoying the fun of spending our days outside playing when we were young, we must also remember that as we age we need to be more diligent about protecting our bodies from such dangers as the summer sun, UV rays, heat and humidity. We often see the results of exposure to these elements in the form of sunburn, sun exhaustion or heat stroke, and dehydration.
Here are a few precautions to take that will help you enjoy your summer.
1. Stay hydrated. Did you know that as we age our feeling of thirst actually decreases? So it may be a bit more difficult to realize when we are dehydrated. One of the signs that we are dehydrated is a feeling of tiredness.[i] You may feel like you need a nap. Before you lie down and close your eyes to rest, drink a glass of water. In fact, it’s good to aim to drink 6 to 8 glasses of water a day to keep your body properly hydrated. If you are exercising or engaging in any type of physical activity, be sure to add more liquid. Avoid alcoholic, caffeinated and carbonated drinks. They may seem to quench your thirst, but in actuality they will just increase your dehydration!
2. Protect your skin. As we spend more time outside in the summertime, we need to remember to take precautions to protect our skin. Use a sun block on all of your skin that is exposed, and apply it periodically as you remain outdoors. Generally, speaking, when applied in accordance with the package directions, an SPF of 30 should be sufficient for most people.[ii] If you use a product with a higher SPF, it might be a good idea to try it on a small area of your skin first to be sure that you will not have a reaction to the additional chemicals included in these products. Sunscreen works best when applied 15 to 30 minutes before exposure to the sun! It’s always good to check with your physician to make sure that you are using the appropriate sunscreen and sun protection.
When possible, wear loose, lightweight, light-colored clothing that will allow your skin to breathe. Wide-brimmed hats will help keep the sun off your face and neck, but should not be your only protection. Sunglasses to protect your eyes will complete your summer ensemble. There are many sunglasses that will block both UVA and UVB rays.
3. Limit your physical activity. If you exercise regularly, try doing it early in the morning and late in the evening when the temperatures are generally a bit cooler. If you must work outside during the heat of the day, stay hydrated and take frequent breaks to give your body a chance to recover. When you do feel overheated, find a cool place to take a break and drink a glass of water.
4. Check on family and friends frequently. Check on your older friends and family frequently as the temperatures rise. Not only will have you a chance to catch up with them, but you can unobtrusively check up on their health, particularly if they do not have air conditioning. And, if you plan to take a walk or to be outside for a while, let your friends and family know beforehand.
5. Review your medications. Since many seniors take multiple medications daily, it is essential to be sure to read all of your medication instructions. You want to be certain that exposure to sun and heat will not have adverse effects on your body, like increased sensitivity to UV rays. If you have any questions about the effects of sun exposure while you are taking your medications, contact your physician or pharmacist.