Greetings Healthy Boilers,
It’s almost that time of year, when we find ourselves soaking in the sun and enjoying summer fun and activities. This year will be full of exceptional excitement, as we hope to see additional quarantine restrictions lifted. While we may have already been spending a little more time outdoors taking walks or playing with the kids, the hot weather will soon begin to set in, and we need to make sure we take extra precautions to protect ourselves from overexposure to the heat and sun. Keep reading below as we discuss the benefits of sun exposure, risks of overexposure and sun safety tips.
Benefits of Sun Exposure
- Vitamin D – When Ultraviolet B rays have contact with skin, they are absorbed into the body and a process is started that ultimately leads to the production of Vitamin D. Many people have low Vitamin D stores, and Vitamin D deficiency is an increasing global problem. Vitamin D can be found through food, supplements and sun exposure. There are many benefits associated with Vitamin D, which include promoting bone health, muscle health and immunity. While there can be several causes for low Vitamin D levels, one is insufficient sun exposure.
To meet Vitamin D needs, The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends the following dosages:
- Men and Women (19 – 70 years): 600 IU each day or 15 mcg each day
- Men and Women (71 years and older): 800 IU each day or 20 mcg each day
The amount of sunlight needed to meet Vitamin D requirements can also depend on a person’s age, complexion time of exposure and location. For example, if a person lives in an area with poor sun exposure, it is recommended to get a good amount of Vitamin D from either food sources or a supplement, since it is unlikely they would be able to get enough Vitamin D from the sun alone.
- Mood – Another positive to sun exposure, is that it helps improve mood. Have you ever sat in a cold, dark office or room, and then walked outside into the sun and immediately felt better? The warmth of sunlight and breath of fresh air can be uplifting. Sunlight is believed to help your brain produce a chemical called serotonin, which helps to improve mood. Right now, you may notice some time outside in the sun helps to de-stress from the anxiety and unknowns of COVID-19. On sunny days, take a break and get out of the house to go on a walk, you may also notice an improved attitude and outlook.
Risks of Sun Overexposure
While there are positives to sun exposure, let’s explore some negative effects to overexposure of sun and heat if not taking the proper precautions.
- Skin – it is likely that most of us have suffered the painful effects of a sunburn at least once in our lives. Not only is it painful, many times the after effect of peeling and itching are just as irritating. Additionally, sun exposure to the skin can lead to early aging and wrinkles and a more serious consequence to over exposure of ultraviolet light is skin cancer. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, 20 percent of Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the age of 70. Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the two most common forms of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. The third most common type of skin cancer is melanoma, which is the deadliest.
- Dehydration – when exposing ourselves to high temperatures and physical activity, our water stores deplete more rapidly. This leads to an increased need for water and emphasizes the importance to replenish those stores to avoid dehydration. Symptoms of dehydration include confusion, irritability, dry mouth, dizziness and headache.
- Heat Stroke – heat stroke is a dangerous condition that develops with overexposure to high temperatures and sun. Symptoms include high body temperature (104 degrees or higher), confusion, rapid heart rate, rapid breathing and headache. It is important to immediately seek medical attention if experiencing a heat stroke.
So how can we prevent ourselves from experiencing any of the dangers from the sun listed above?
- Sunscreen: Sunscreen is a must when heading out into the sun, as it protects our skin from sun burns, early aging and skin cancer. It is important to choose the right sunscreen and apply and reapply properly to protect skin from harmful sun exposure. When choosing a sunscreen, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends:
- SPF 30 or higher
- Broad-spectrum Protection (UVA/UVB)
- Water Resistant
To apply sunscreen, read directions posted on the sunscreen bottle. General rules would include:
- Make sure you are applying sunscreen correctly. Apply at least 15 minutes prior to being in the sun to give it proper time to be absorbed
- Reapply after 80 minutes of swimming or sweating
- Reapply immediately after towel drying
- Reapply at least every two hours
- Hats: Wearing sunscreen is important, and another great way to protect your skin from the sun is by wearing a broad coverage hat. A hat with a wide brim can protect the face, eyes, ears and neck. Hats can also help protect your scalp from the heat. Hats are great for added coverage and protection from the sun.
- Sunglasses: Sunglasses come in so many fun shapes, sizes and colors but they aren’t just a fashion statement. They are also helpful when it comes to protecting our eyes. The National Eye Institute recommends buying sunglasses that block 99 to 100 percent of UV rays, which can cause damage to the eyes. There is also an advantage to buying polarized sunglasses, which can help reduce eye strain and glare. Additionally, wearing sunglasses can be helpful in preventing cataracts, which can develop because of long-term-UV-ray exposure.
- Shade: If planning an outing to the beach, purchase or rent an umbrella to have on hand for the day. The same goes for going to the pool or sitting at the ballpark watching a game, you should bring an umbrella or sit in a shaded area. Shade can help cool down body temperature and is great way to avoid direct sunlight and UV rays.
- Rehydrate: When out in the heat, it is so important to remember to drink water. It can be easy to forget but can lead to dehydration. For those working in the heat for more than two hours, the CDC recommends drinking eight ounces of water every 15 to 20 minutes, which is about three-fourths to one quart of water every hour. If sweating heavily, it may be useful to drink a sports drink to help replace electrolytes lost in sweat. On June 2 from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Lindsay Bloom, health coach at Purdue Fort Wayne, will lead a virtual Healthy Boiler workshop titled, “Rethink Your Drink,” where the importance of drinking water will be discussed.
Those interested in participating should sign up by June 1 via the Healthy Boiler Portal. Registration link can be found under the “Engage” tab, “Wellness Events” on the portal’s home page. The WebEx link will be emailed prior to the workshop. Healthy Boiler workshops are free to all benefits-eligible faculty and staff and dependents covered on a Purdue medical plan.
- Work in morning or evening: If your job requires working outside and if you’re able, avoid hours with the greatest sun exposure or take breaks from the sun in a shaded area. Try to schedule the more strenuous work during cooler times in the day. Avoid exercise outside during peak hours as well, and instead try to take a run in the early morning or later in the evening.
- Remember to take breaks from the sun: When it comes to time in the sun, don’t overdo it. Avoiding over exposure will reduce your risk of sunburn, dehydration and developing skin cancer. Take frequent breaks and head indoors where it’s air conditioned, or find a shady area to sit in outside. These breaks can be the time for you to refill your water bottle or reapply sunscreen!
With the approach of vacations, cookouts, and various outdoor activities, just remember to take the correct precautions to avoid unwanted side effects of too much heat and sun.
Author: Katie Gestosani, registered dietitian, One to One Health
Purdue’s Center for Healthy Living on the West Lafayette campus is managed by One to One Health, a private, physician-led company.