6 safety tips for getting back outside
It’s time to get outside and enjoy the sun, warmth and all the summer has to offer. But don’t let safety fall by the wayside while you jump into the fun days ahead.
Older adults benefit from getting outside and being active. Participating in safe outdoor activities in good weather can help improve physical and mental wellbeing, according to research compiled by My Open Country. Specifically, older adults who participate in outdoor activities can:
- Increase Vitamin D intake, which may reduce the risk of heart disease, dementia, stroke, autoimmune disorders and diabetes.
- Improve sleep quality. Sunlight helps reset the circadian rhythm and restore natural sleep patterns.
- Protect vision. It’s helpful to get your eyes off screens and into natural light.
- Reduce blood pressure. Several studies show moderate outdoor activity – such as walking or gardening – help reduce high blood pressure.
- Reduce the risks of heart attack and stroke. Again, moderate outdoor activity helps improve heart and mind health.
- Reduce stress and mental fatigue. The fresh air can reduce cortisol and stress levels.
But outdoor activities don’t come without risk.
Here are six potential risks when spending more time outdoors this summer – and tips to avoid the hazards.
The sun feels great, but it can leave a negative lasting impression – that is, sunburn.
Use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) higher than 30. Apply it generously before going outdoors and reapply at least every two hours while outdoors.
In addition, experts recommend you wear lightweight clothing, a hat and sunglasses. Avoid the midday sun.
If you do suffer sunburn, try oral pain relievers and aloe vera on your skin for cooling relief. If you experience shaking chills and/or severe blisters, contact your medical provider.
Heatstroke is a summer safety risk – especially in vehicles, whether you’re on the way to enjoy outdoor activities or waiting in a vehicle. Some experts say the interior of an idle vehicle can go up 20 degrees in just 10 minutes.
Keep the air conditioner running when traveling in a vehicle in warm weather. Cracking a window isn’t enough. If you need to wait in a vehicle, keep it running with the air conditioner on – or wait outside the vehicle in a safe, shady area.
Activities in hot, humid weather increases the risk of dehydration.
When you spend time outdoors, drink more water than you normally would and as often as every 20 minutes while active.
Also be aware of the dehydration symptoms: muscle cramps, dizziness, nausea and increased heartbeat. If you experience these, stop your activity and contact a health care professional.
Participating in outdoor activities increases exposure to allergens. If you have hay fever – and suffer from seasonal allergy symptoms such as runny nose, itchy eyes, congestion, sneezing and sinus pressure – just being outside can make it worse.
To reduce allergic reactions while outdoors:
- take your allergy medications before symptoms kick in
- wear a pollen mask if you must mow, weed or garden
- wear wraparound sunglasses to reduce pollen getting in your eyes
- apply a small amount of petroleum gel to the nasal openings to trap pollen grains, and
- remove outdoor clothing and shower when you go inside to remove pollen from skin and hair.
Bugs can be beautiful – and pesky when you want to enjoy the outdoors. Not only can they be annoying, some bugs can spread diseases (such as ticks with Lyme disease or mosquitos with West Nile Virus). Others can bite or sting – and those can lead to worse allergic reactions.
To increase safety while outdoors and exposed to bugs, experts at NorthShore University HealthSystem recommend you:
- Skip perfumes and scented soaps, which can attract some insects
- Avoid stagnant water and heavily wooded areas where many disease carrying insects congregate
- Avoid bright clothing, which attracts bees and hornets
- Use insect repellant with appropriate DEET levels. Higher concentrates last longer, and
- Wear long pants and sleeves and shoes in wooded or grass areas to limit skin exposure.
We’re still facing the coronavirus. Even though many people have been vaccinated, older adults don’t want to let their guard down. Continue to practice pandemic safety.
Avoid large crowds. Continue to wear a mask when you can’t socially distance from others while enjoying outdoor activities.
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