Have a Safe, Not Sorry Summer

By Dr. Jim Collins

Summer is finally here and with it comes lots of fun, outdoor activities, and some of our favorite foods. The days will be longer, warmer and many of us will want to be outdoors as much as possible. While there are great times ahead, summer also brings a few dangers, especially to people over 65 years of age. Some older adults can experience heat exhaustion, dehydration and foodborne illnesses. Here are some tips to enjoy the summer and remain safe.

Protect Yourself from Heat-Related Illness

Hyperthermia refers to a group of heat-related conditions such as heat stress, heat stroke and heat exhaustion. Annually, thousands of people experience these conditions, but they could be avoided altogether. Older adults are especially vulnerable to heat-related illnesses because the aging body cannot compensate for the heat and cool itself down. Older adults run a higher risk of hyperthermia due to being overweight, having poor circulation or high blood pressure.

There are many ways to protect yourself from heat-related illnesses. Stay inside air-conditioned places during extreme heat. Limit your exposure to the sun and get rest inside cool and comfortable places. The sun is hottest between 10am and 2pm, so stay inside during these peak hours. Wear light, loose-fitting clothes, wear sunglasses and wide-brimmed hats. Always drink extra fluids during hot weather and limit the amount of caffeine and alcohol you would normally consume. Sunscreen, especially SPF 30 or higher is recommended.

Enjoy Summer Activities Safely

The summer is a great time for gardening, swimming, walking, golfing, and going on short or longer trips. Studies show that older adults who remain active have higher life satisfaction than those who do not. Remaining active is also a great way to prevent or treat depression and loneliness.

To better ensure safety during the summer, talk to your doctor to make sure you are in good shape to handle physical activities. Any physical activity is better than none, so to improve cardiovascular health, go for walks, try biking, hiking, yoga, and watch your emotional state go from good to great! Keep an eye on community programs that may be interesting such as museum exhibits, gardening clubs, farmer’s markets, or outdoor symphonies. Summer is also a great time to volunteer and help children and animals in your community. In addition, since many younger people prefer not to attend college classes in the summer, you may want to take a couple courses yourself while there are fewer people on campus and more parking spaces.

Summer Foods and Eating Wisely

Far too many people become sick annually due to eating contaminated foods that have sat out in the heat for too long. Bacteria and viruses can make us very ill and cause death. Symptoms of food poisoning can occur within 24 hours or even days or weeks later. Symptoms of food poisoning include fever, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea and nausea.

Tips to avoid food poisoning include washing your hands before and after you handle food. Scrub your hands with soap for at least 20-30 seconds with warm, soapy water and rinse. Use a food thermometer to ensure that cooked foods reach safe temperatures. Hamburgers should be 160 degrees, steaks 145 degrees, chicken 165 degrees and fish should be cooked to 145 degrees.

Never place cooked food on a plate that previously had raw foods like meat, poultry, seafood or eggs. Always use clean and sanitized utensils, plates and cookware. Don’t allow raw meat, poultry, eggs, seafood, cut fresh fruits or vegetables sit at room temperature for more than 2 hours. Be sure to scrub out your cooler before filling it with ice.

Although summer is full of fun, activities, and outdoor living, it can also bring many dangers that can be easily avoided. To maximize your summer, stay cool, limit direct sun exposure and wear sunscreen. Get some exercise, but be careful and consult your doctor before adding too much physical activity to your daily routine. Get out and volunteer. Eat, drink and enjoy all that summer brings, but do it carefully and safely. Have a wonderful summer!