Going to the park for a picnic or playing sports can be extremely fun for the whole family or a group of friends. This time of year is the primetime to do so, but you may want to be aware of some hazards that can arise from the beautiful warm weather.
If you are staying relatively sedentary and just having a nice picnic, heat may not have as extreme of an effect on you, but you should be aware of certain dangers. First and foremost, protect your skin! Skin cancer is very real and can happen to anyone, not just those with fair skin. You do not have to have a burn to have skin damage from the sun. It is recommended to use sunscreen that is water resistant, contains SPF 15 or higher, and has broad spectrum protection (i.e. UVA and UVB protection). Don’t be stingy with how much sunscreen you put on. Put enough on that it takes a full minute to rub in. If you are going to be outside for an extended period of time remember to reapply sunscreen at least every 2 hrs. Also, don’t forget your lips. They get just as much sun exposure, so use lip balm with at least SPF 15 in it and reapply with your regular sunscreen. If you can avoid it, stay out of the midday sun.
If you are eating or cooking outside, the heat increases the chance for bacterial growth on food, so be cautious. Remember to keep hot foods hot (at least 140-165 ºF) before serving and keep cold food cold (40 ºF or less). In other words, keep the hotdogs and hamburgers on the grill until it’s time to eat and keep the cold food in the cooler opening it as infrequently as possible. The total amount of time that food should be out at room temperature is 2 hours and if the temperature outside is 90 ºF or more then food should be discarded after only 1 hour.
If you chose to be active while outside in the heat, either playing Frisbee or football or just going for a run; there are a few things you should know. Exercising in hot weather can increase your core body temperature and cause some negative effects. When the core temperature increases during exercise, the body tries to cool itself by increasing blood circulation at the skin. During this process, you heart rate rises while your body tries to pump more blood into the muscles that have been deprived of blood. Humidity can further increase core temperature because sweat that is produced won’t evaporate in order to cool down the skin. Conditions including heat cramps (no change in core temperature), heat exhaustion (core temperature increase up to 140 ºF), and heatstroke (core temperature increases greater than 140 ºF) can all occur due to exercising in hot weather. Some possible symptoms to be aware of include:
- Muscle cramps
- Nausea or vomiting
If any of these symptoms occur: stop exercising, get out of the heat, and hydrate with either water or a sports drink.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the key to avoiding heat-related illness is as follows:
- Watch the temperature outside in order to avoid exercising on extremely hot days.
- Get acclimated to exercising in the heat by easing into activity.
- Know your fitness level and adjust your level of activity as tolerated.
- Drink plenty of fluids so that your body can sweat and cool down. For more hydration information check out our previous dehydration blog here.
- Dress appropriately with lightweight, loose-fitting, light-colored clothing.
- Avoid midday sun so that you are exercising when the weather is cooler.
- Wear sunscreen because sunburn decreases your body's ability to cool itself.
- Have a backup plan like exercising inside or in a pool.
- Understand your medical risks because certain medical conditions or medications can increase your risk of a heat-related illness.
Understand that if you have suffered from heatstroke in the past, you are more at risk to have a heat-related illness in the future. Picnicking and exercising in the park can be fun, but please stay safe by following these guidelines and watching for warning signs of trouble.