Wednesday, July 9, 2014


Summer is universally known as a relaxing time for fun in the sun, on the water, or on the trail; but the dangers of the season should not be dismissed.  There’s poison ivy, snakes, and bees, but none are more dangerous than what lurks in the sky.  The sun poses a real threat during the year’s hottest month; and proper care should be taken to prevent heat- and radiation-related illnesses.  Here are a few safety precautions to consider this month.

Photo by Matt Reilly

Dress Comfortably

    Before heading out, check the weather station.  Light, breathable shorts, pants, and shirts, some that offer sun protection, are made by companies like ExOfficio, Columbia, and Under Armour.  Some are worth the slightly inflated price tag.

    Neck buffs, hats, and sunglasses also deserve their places on your hot weather checklist.  Buffs can prevent sunburn in the most vulnerable places, and sunglasses, personally, make time spent outdoors with exceptionally-bright sunlight more enjoyable, not to mention safer for your eyes.    


    It’s a cliché, but considering what the summer sun has accomplished on some of the more exposed rivers by the climax of summer, and that almost ¾ of the human body is water, I would say it’s a cliché grounded heavily in science.  Staying hydrated, drinking water or juice even when you don’t feel thirsty, is the first and most important step in keeping yourself healthy in the heat.  Even mild dehydration can leave one feeling weak and tired; and taking a break in that situation without replenishing your body’s supply of fluids can be very dangerous.

    Avoid drinking alcohol, as it’s well recognized as a diuretic that makes maintaining a healthy fluid level difficult.

    Operating a boat under the influence of alcohol is illegal, and VDGIF officer patrol state waters on the lookout for transgressors in the latter days of June through July, an establishment of the Department’s Operation Dry Water.

Take 5

    Don’t underestimate the value of taking a break, especially if doing strenuous activity like hiking or mountain biking.  Rest.  Use this time to replenish what you’ve lost in fluids. Eating small snacks not overly loaded with protein—though, with a sustainable amount—also helps in keeping cool, as it prevents an increased metabolic rate that produces unwanted bodily heat.

Be Cool

     It is not uncommon for temperatures to fluctuate 20 degrees over the course of 24 hours, with the coolest parts of the day passing in the night and the hottest in the hours following midday.  Use this information to your advantage by planning activities in the cooler parts of the day.  Going on a hike?  Wake up early to see the sunrise and make your trek when the sun hasn’t yet saturated the ground.  Fishing?  The topwater action is better in the evenings anyway, and will only improve from here on out.

Lather.  Rinse.  Repeat.

    No, I’m not suggesting showering—when you get home, definitely!—but rather applying sunscreen, or, more importantly, reapplying.  I’ve had my neck fried to discomfort on the first day of a beach vacation enough to have learned that sunscreen is a beautiful creation, and should be utilized as such.

    When sunscreen shopping, it pays to not just pick the highest sun protection factor (SPF) number and get out.  Not only is this number misleading, it’s also just half the story. 

    SPF is a reference to the level of protection against cancer-causing UVB rays.  The average person will be well-served by sunscreen with an SPF of 15, while fair-skinned people may benefit from SPF 30. 

    Contrary to popular belief, these numbers don’t double in potency as they double geometrically, but 30 still offers more protection than 15.

    The other half of the story, UVA rays, can also be damaging to your health, but aren’t as commonly advertised as their bold counterpart.  UVA rays are also associated with cancer, but, as researchers from the EPA found, penetrate deep into the skin to cause wrinkling, and overall, about 90% of all skin changes previously attributed to aging.  While picking a sunscreen for UVA protection, look to the ingredients list for components such as ecamsule, avobenzone, oxybenzone, titanium dioxide, sulisobenzone, or zinc oxide.

    Even with the best sunscreens, remember to reapply often.  Multiply the time it usually takes your skin to burn without protection—if you know—by the SPF number, and reapply on that interval.

    Just as in cold weather situations, there are plenty of dangers present in the elements that can slip into your body somewhat undetected—at first.  Take care, and place safety before practicality while exposed to the elements to get the most out of your time outdoors.  Dehydration and sunburn take more out of fun than most people are willing to give.

*Originally published in the Rural Virginian

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