Ready, Set, Summer
Some essential advice to get you past the hot season's pitfalls
By Brenda DeKoker Goodman
At last, that damn fine time of year when you can blow out the door in nothing more than a T-shirt and swimming trunks. When you can go the extra mile on your run, or the extra five on your ride. When the water's warm enough to ditch the wetsuit and the high country's dry enough to camp in for weeks and weeks. If only you had the time. And if only that summer living were sometimes, well, even easier.
First, of course, there are those hated little bugs, biting, stinging, burrowing, pestering squadrons of them. Or that mother of a daystar, which has probably already dealt you your first atomic sunburn. Or that gym-trained body of yours — fresh from months of pumping iron and putting the heart and lungs through their paces on the treadmill — which still feels a bit leaden on the beach volleyball court. Name your nuisance. Summer, for all its many joys, isn't quite perfect, especially for athletes. But then again, you haven't turned the page.
Shield Yourself (and We Don't Mean Sunscreen)
Just when you've gotten into the habit of glopping on the SPF 39 before you expose skin to sun, along comes some new research from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. It seems that typical sunscreens may not do much of anything to ward off melanoma, the deadliest of skin cancers, after all. Sure, they absorb UVB radiation — a measly 5 percent of light, responsible for sunburn and most skin tumors. But according to epidemiologist Marianne Berwick, who conducted the research, conventional lotions probably don't screen out the other 95 percent of the sun's deadly arsenal — UVA rays, the ones now suspected of causing melanoma. Essentially, the fact that your sunscreen keeps you from burning doesn't mean it's protecting you from the sun's insidiousness.
Quick to capitalize on the news, sunscreen makers have been trumpeting the UVA-blocking capacity of an ingredient called Parsol 1789, which has only recently become widely available. "Not so fast," says Richard Setlow of Brookhaven National Laboratory, a world-class center for the study of the effects of ultraviolet light. "What percentage of UVA does it absorb? Most UVA guards only offer limited protection."
Indeed, manufacturers of Parsol 1789 balk at quantifying the percentage of UVA rays that it absorbs, preferring to lean on the phrase "broad spectrum protection." Not exactly heartening, especially considering that most folks don't even use sunscreen correctly; the right way is to apply a heaping palmfull (one ounce) every two hours.
So what's a sun-lover to do? Doctors, not surprisingly, warn that the only surefire safeguard is to avoid the sun completely from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Right. Instead, consider workout clothes made of a sun-protective fabric. Your old cotton T-shirt has a measly SPF of 8 (4 if it's wet), whereas the densely woven nylon from the company Sun Precautions (800-882-7860) shades you with an SPF of 30. Ex Officio (800-644-7303) offers a nylon-polyester blend with a coating that absorbs UV rays. Not exactly snazzy, but at least it's not as messy as sunscreen.
Get Thee to the Pantry
When winged or tentacled or bloodsucking invertebrates seize upon your precious hide this summer, don't despair — assuming you're not allergic, you're not exactly ER material. "You probably already have what you need to treat most injuries," says Stephen P. Stone, a Southern Illinois University dermatologist whose vast collection of commonplace curatives serves as sort of a reference for his colleagues. "In many cases, home remedies are just as effective as pharmaceuticals." His effective balms for the season's inevitable dermal woes:
flush the wound with fresh water — unless you'd like the nematocysts that are left behind in the skin to release more venom.
Limp your sorry self to the lifeguard tower, which should be stocked with vinegar — sweet relief.
apply hot compresses to bites. Heat will actually make the swelling worse.
Coat bites with a solid stick deodorant that contains aluminum.
try to smother them. It'll only agitate the little buggers, perhaps causing them to inject you with an unwanted memento: Lyme disease.
Grab the sucker close to the skin with tweezers and pull straight out to ensure you get it all.
Bees, wasps, hornets
remove the stinger with fingers or tweezers — you'll only inject that much more venom into the wound.
Use the edge of a credit card to scrape away the stingers. Then slap on some meat tenderizer.
Moderation's the Thing — Even with H20
Hyperhydration is the current buzz in endurance cliques: Load up on water before a 10k, the thinking goes, and you won't have to stop to drink. Better yet, down some glycerol — a sugar alcohol, new to sports drinks, that keeps your body from expelling its water — and you won't have to stop for another typical purpose. But does it work? "No," says John E. Greenleaf, a research physiologist for NASA. "Glycerol doesn't offer any benefit over being properly hydrated." That generally requires downing two glasses of water two hours before a workout, in addition to your standard eight glasses a day. And during exercise, drink 8 ounces of water every 15 minutes up to 90 minutes; then switch to a sports drink to replace lost sodium and potassium.
Know What Ails You
In the first two weeks of working out in scorching heat, your body acclimatizes, actually boosting your capacity to sweat. But even properly adjusted, your natural cooling system can be easily overwhelmed. Thus, it's wise to know the differences between the two most common heat illnesses: heat exhaustion and heatstroke.
Heat exhaustion — marked by sweaty, cool skin, muscle cramps, dizziness, and/or the feeling that you might faint — is a sign that you're severely dehydrated. "It's not usually dangerous, and athletes can recover pretty quickly," says Dr. Michael Sawka of the Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine. "Get them something to drink and get them into some shade."
Heatstroke, on the other hand, is a catch-22: Its early symptoms are disorientation and confusion, making it nigh impossible to clue into your own deteriorating condition. So be sure your training partner knows the other warning signs, which include red, dry skin and a frighteningly high fever. "A big effort in extreme heat can set you up for heatstroke the next day," says Sawka, so think twice about that active recovery run.
Eat That Alphabet Soup
After years of ambiguous credibility, antioxidants are once again nutrition's darlings. Not only are they thought to protect against heart disease and fight pollution damage, but the latest research suggests that these wonder nutrients — selenium and vitamins A, C, and E — work even harder for you in summertime. Harvey Arbesman, a dermatologist at the State University of New York at Buffalo, recently found that a diet high in antioxidants and low in fat may help protect against 96 percent of all skin cancer. Don't worry, we aren't suggesting you overhaul your diet. But if you focus on just one meal a day — let's say breakfast — you can get your antioxidant fix in short order.
Try an omelette made with one whole egg and two egg whites, 1/2 cup of spinach, 1/2 cup of chopped red pepper, and 1/4 cup of reduced-fat cheddar cheese. Chase it with 8 ounces of O.J. and you've had over three times your daily vitamin C. Even the most careful eaters, however, have a hard time getting enough vitamin E, so consider taking a supplement for the RDA of 30 IU.
Use It, but Use It Wisely
"Deet has taken its licks," says Phil Koehler, a University of Florida entomologist and expert on solutions that drive back bugs, referring to the repellent's reputation for having caused rashes and seizures. "But it's actually the compounds that have been combined with deet that caused the problems, not deet itself." The chemical, diethyltoluamide, is in fact a toxin, but used properly, he says, "there really is nothing more effective for keeping insects at bay."
The important thing is not to absorb more deet than is absolutely necessary. So apply it only where you actually need it — not under clothing — and avoid smearing it on sunburned or broken skin, both of which absorb it more readily. And be wary of mixing up a deet-sunscreen cocktail: Lotion is designed to soak in and will only take the bug repellent along with it. Finally, among deet's most impressive tricks is that it can dissolve plastic, so wash up before handling, say, your plastic-coated fly-fishing line.
Athlete, Heal Thyself
Daylight saving time is far too great to be squandered inside, nursing the nagging dents and dings that accompany our favorite sports. "Too often, it's the little things that get you," says Lee Frizzell, director of SOLO, the revered wilderness school in Conway, New Hampshire. A few of Frizzell's track-and-trail pointers:
Boot Blisters: First, lance the impudent dome in several places with a sterilized needle (iodine or alcohol will do the trick) and drain it — an important course of action to prevent the skin from rupturing and tearing clean off. Then cover the area with antibiotic ointment and slap on a Band-Aid — a piece of duct tape will work in a jam — to prevent further friction.
Road Rash: This often seems to show up at places that bend. The trick is to prevent the formation of a hard scab that will continually crack. First clean out the grit with antibacterial soap and a washcloth. Scrub it, pick at it, or scour it if necessary. Hanging flaps of skin should then be cut away with clean scissors. Coat the area with antibiotic ointment and bandage it until new, pink skin appears.
Ankle Sprains: Surely you know to use RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation), but that's not always viable when you're out and about and twist an ankle. Plan B calls for getting the boot off and, time willing, propping your foot up above your heart for 30 minutes. By then, the internal bleeding will stop, allowing you to hobble on home.
Train for the Season
It's time to dust off your jump shot and brush up your volleyball spike. But despite your most dedicated efforts to get fit, you might find that you need a little help with Newton's laws this summer. "Cardio workouts are great for stamina and weights will build muscle, but to combine them so you can change direction more rapidly or explode off the ground, you need plyometric work," explains Donald A. Chu, a physiologist who has consulted the Detroit Lions and the Chicago White Sox. The quick back-and-forth movements of the following four drills teach your muscles to tap their full strength more immediately. Consider folding any or all of them into a three-times-per-week regimen.
Split Squat Jump: Position yourself in a lunge, with your front leg forming 90-degree angles at the hip and knee, making sure that your kneecap doesn't extend farther forward than your toes. Now jump up, thrusting your arms overhead to help with liftoff, and land in the same position. Immediately repeat until you've reached ten; work up to three sets with each leg.
Bounding: The idea here is merely to leap across grassy ground in an exaggerated running action; it'll help put more power in your stride. Starting from a jog, drive into the air with your right knee, pushing off forcefully from your left foot while thrusting up with your left arm. The instant you land, take off on the opposite side. Try three sets of ten, covering as much ground as possible.
Stadium Hops: At the bottom of a set of stairs, stand with your feet hip-width apart, knees bent about 45 degrees, and hands on hips. Now hop to the next step with both feet, and as soon as you land, take off for the next stair. Start with three sets of ten jumps.
Modified Tuck Jump: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, arms at your sides. Jump up and touch your heels to your keister, simultaneously swinging your arms up in front for help. Land and repeat immediately until you've ticked off ten. Work up to three sets.