Medical Matters – Summer


Ah, June! After a long, long winter the sun is shining and we have a myriad of excuses to get outside — from the many prides to trails to bike, run, skate or walk on the summer beach or camping and bicycling events are all over the area.

But wait!

Are you ready to be outside in the heat and sunshine? I mean really ready?

After spending many months indoors, a lot of us are pale to say the least. Others are used to a few sips of water at the office water cooler plus a coffee or tea with breakfast and not a lot more liquid. And almost everyone has been indoors and not getting as much exercise as they’d like during these past chilly months.

All of this means we have to get ready — mentally and physically — to be outdoors in the June, July and August heat and sunshine. Some things are obvious and some not so much so.

It’s pretty obvious, for example, that in summer sunshine we need some protection.



We won’t bore you with much of the technical talk of Langleys (Wikipedia defines one as “…a unit of energy distribution over area. It is used to measure solar radiation (or insolation). The unit was named after Samuel Pierpont Langley (1834-1906) in 1947…”) but we will say that’s how scientists measure and know that the sun is way, way more intense in June and July — close to the Summer solstice — than it is at any other time of year. And that difference is huge — three and four times as much solar radiation reaches the northern hemisphere now as was the case around the first of the year

Its also why we know we need to up our SPF, which stands for “sun protection factor”, when we shop for sunscreen or suntan lotion. While many think that a glowing tan is a symbol of health, to those in the know it’s a realistic indicator that as we all grow older what was tanned skin in our 20s becomes leatherette in our 40s and beyond, not to mention making those tanned bodies now prime candidates for developing skin cancers later.

Head to the drugstore and check out the sunscreen and suntan products aisle. Look for a really high SPF at the stall of the Summer then you can back off a little bit if you want some color as your skin’s own protection (which is what causes the “tan”) kicks in. Do keep in mind that blondes and light-skinned folks tend to burn the fastest (and often with devastating results) so limit that time in the sun — especially between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. when those Langleys are their highest and you will get the most direct solar rays.

Next, while shopping, consider the body parts you don’t often think of. That means a hat to keep your scalp from burning, applying suntan lotion to your forehead, the tips and lobes of your ears and back of your neck. And remember you can harm your vision in brought sunlight, too, so invest in a pair of decent sunglasses — not necessar­ily one of the “in” brands, but a pair which screens out the harmful UV rays which can do permanent damage. And if you are going to be getting wet — at the pool, beach, lake or even under that backyard sprinkler — remember that sunscreen needs frequent reapplication to keep you protected.

But there’s more to think about before you head for that work out or cycle or visit a pride with friends. Temperature is a major factor, plus what in the old days was called the “temperature-humidity index” (now is known as the heat index) is foremost.

Take the temperature, add in the humidity and that’s what it will feel like outside to you and your body’s heat-relieving mechanism.

See, we all sweat as a way to beat the heat. Our bodies sweat to allow evaporation to cool our skin and allow the core of our bodies (heart, brain and other organs) to stay cool. Problem is, when the humidity rises and the dew point goes up, our bodies are less and less efficient. That means we sweat more and more but fail at keeping cool. Eventually, the whole system breaks down and then we start to see heat exhaustion and heat stroke — both medical emergencies worthy of 911 calls.

To help keep those from happening, watch a few numbers and listen to your body.

The numbers are the heat index and the dew point. If the latter is under 60 most folks will feel and function just fine, but as it climbs more and more will “feel the heat” and that’s trouble for our bodies.

There’s also the issue of listening to your body — even before it “speaks.” That means staying hydrated with water, a spoils drink or other non-alcoholic beverage and tak­ing breaks in the shade or air conditioning if you begin to feel the heat. A note, too, about a recent change as it seems thoughts are shifting amongst some scientists about the value of beverages like colas, tea or coffee. Back in the day we were all told those “didn’t count” as beverages on hot days and fed theories that caffeine can open our bodies to more heat damage. Recently, however, a few studies say ANY liquid aside from alcohol works just as well as any other meaning we personally have returned to iced coffee and iced tea to stay hydrated in summers. While the jury’s most definitely still out, judge for yourself, but whatever you are drinking (no, no not booze) increase your intake in the summer and when the temperature is forecast to be hot. And do not be dishonest — if you get too hot or feel yourself overheating, take a break, get in the shade or air conditioner or even call it a day no matter what your friends and play­mates might say. Safety first.

Finally, watch what you wear! We gays seem to be intent on fashion, not form, and on sultry days that can lead to danger. White or light-colored clothing reflects more sunlight (again, those Langleys) and keeps us cooler. Ever wonder why pro tennis play­ers, for instance, like white shorts and tops? Tight clothing, no matter what the maker seems to imply will not be as cool as light, loose fitting garb. Those spandex bike shorts may look sexy as hell, but to go the distance pick the baggier ones and don’t forget if you go out in just a tank top or cut-offs to put a high SPF lotion on your arms, shoulders or other exposed skin.

So there you have it, aside from us giving the usual warning to contact your doctor for a physical before you start any fitness program — especially in the heat — and to drink and eat properly balanced, low-calorie meals.

Have a great Summer!

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