The sky is blue, the air is warm and the days are long…in a good way! It must be summer, those days and months when our minds turn to vacations, the great outdoors and relaxing in our own backyards. It’s a feel-good time of year, but there are things we can do to make sure it’s also a safe and healthy time of year that makes us feel as well as possible – physically and mentally.
Let’s get physical!
Move more and sit less. That’s the message in a nutshell.
“Incorporating physical activity into your daily routine is not always easy but it is so important,” says Natalie. “After a long day or night at work it is often difficult to convince yourself that participating in some physical activity is even possible but it is – and the benefits to your health both physically and mentally are immediate.”
Physical activity is essential for your health, well-being and quality of life. It reduces stress, strengthens the heart and lungs, increases energy levels, and improves your outlook on life.
Children need regular physical activity to grow and develop. Being active allows adults to perform daily tasks with greater ease and comfort and with less fatigue. For seniors, weight-bearing physical activity reduces the rate of bone loss associated with osteoporosis. Regular physical activity also maintains strength, flexibility, balance, and coordination, and can help reduce the risk of falls.
Physical activity across the lifespan is vital to our health. And it doesn’t involve only sports – it can include everyday activities such as:
- Walking the dog;
- Riding a bike;
- Planting a garden or mowing the lawn;
- Playing tag; or
- Household chores like raking the leaves, sweeping the garage or hanging clothes on the line!
Practise Safe Sun
A warm, sunny day is a wonderful thing – especially in Newfoundland and Labrador. But sometimes, in our enthusiasm after a long winter we can overdo it when it comes to sun exposure. That can result in sunburn, skin cancer, eye damage and premature aging. An ounce of prevention now can spare you a ton of grief down the road.
- Stay in the shade and out of the hot sun between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Otherwise, wear long pants, long sleeves and a hat with a wide brim to protect your skin from sunburn.
- Wear sunglasses that provide UVA and UVB protection.
- Use a sunscreen lotion or cream that is SPF 15 or more. SPF means Sun Protection Factor. Use a sunscreen that says “broad-spectrum” on the label. It will screen out most of the UVA and UVB rays.
- Put sunscreen on your skin 20 minutes before you go out and reapply 20 minutes after being out in the sun to ensure even application of the product and better protection. Reapply sunscreen after swimming or if you are sweating.
- Don’t forget your lips, ears and nose. These parts of your body burn easily.
Too much sun and humidity can also cause something known as heat stress. It includes a variety of conditions where the body is under stress from overheating such as heat rash, sunburn, heat cramps, fainting, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Heat stress can also be fatal.
To make sure this doesn’t happen to you or members of your family:
- Make sure cool drinking water is readily accessible and take rest breaks in cool areas;
- Check with your doctor before working if you are taking medications that cause fluid loss such as diuretics;
- Use fans, ventilators, exhaust systems and air conditioning systems to control the temperature;
- Wear clothing that is loose fitting, tightly woven and light colored in order to reflect heat rather than absorb it – and avoid strenuous activity during the hottest part of the day;
- Turn off lights and unnecessary thermal generating equipment (kettle, microwave, fridge);
- Prepare foods that generate less heat; and
- Take protective measures against hazards of UV radiation.
‘Mind’ your health
Closely connected with physical health is mental health. The summer months are a perfect time to take a deep breath of fragrant air – and take stock of how you’re doing mentally. With the spring and summer seasons come longer days with more hours of sunlight. While winter can leave you feeling shut in and insular the summer sun encourages openness and the desire to get outside and take advantage of this fleeting season. Here are a few simple suggestions for encouraging positive mental health during our warmer months:
- Get outside. A walk is good exercise, but it’s also a way to reacquaint yourself with the natural beauty of the region we live in. This helps you feel connected to something greater than ourselves. Any form of basic exercise helps promote mental wellness so find something you enjoy – and do it.
- Eat healthy. Eat a variety of food. Make a point of trying a food you have never eaten before; for example, a vegetable or fruit, salad, a new way of cooking meat or fish on the barbeque.
- Maintain your relationships. Relationships of all kinds are important sources of social support – and summer is a good time to connect with people who are important to you. Having adequate social supports can help you get through trying times. Like anything in life, they require work and maintenance but in the end you reap the benefits.
- Be gentle with yourself. If you need a day for yourself, take it. It’s impossible to feel good all the time, so if you find yourself struggling with depression or anxiety realize that it’s okay to take what you need for yourself. It’s also okay to reach out to others. If needed, enlist the help of a professional – your physician, psychologist or spiritual guide; whoever is in a position to listen to you, assist in your wellness, and encourage healthy relationships and life styles.
Savour the days that encourage you to ‘get fresh!’
One of the great advantages of summer is the availability of fruits and vegetables – important all year round – but especially delicious when eaten fresh from the ground or tree! Crisp salads, crunchy raw vegetables, a variety of grilled vegetables and fresh fruit add great taste and variety to all summer snacks.
And they’re good for you!
“Summer is an ideal time to explore the pleasures of healthy eating,” says Natalie. “Whether you’re growing some vegetables, starting an herb garden, checking out the local farmers market, bringing home a basket of fresh peaches from the supermarket or picking blueberries – there are many opportunities to savour the great taste of healthy choices.”
However, there are some things to looks out for. As temperatures rise, so does the risk of foodborne illness as people cook outdoors more often. Harmful bacteria grow quickly in warm, moist conditions, so measures should be taken to guard against it. Keep the following food safety tips in mind to keep you and your family safe from foodborne illness.
- Chill. Keep raw foods cold. Use a cooler to store your food. Keep the cooler out of direct sunlight, and avoid opening it too often. Use plenty of ice packs to avoid the temperature ‘danger zone’ of 4°C to 60°C (40°F to 140°F). On hot days, don’t keep food unrefrigerated for more than two hours. Remember: when in doubt, throw it out!
- Separate. Make sure to keep raw meat, poultry and seafood away from other foods so you don’t spread foodborne bacteria between foods. You can avoid cross-contamination by packing or wrapping meat, poultry and seafood separately or by using separate containers to prevent leaks. If you pack vegetables in the same cooler, always put meat, poultry and seafood at the bottom of the cooler to keep juices from dripping onto other foods. Never put ready-to-eat or cooked food on a plate that held raw meat, poultry or seafood. When cooking outdoors, take several sets of utensils, cutting boards, or plates to help prevent cross-contamination.
- Clean. Clean hands, plates and utensils help reduce the risk of foodborne illness. Follow the same washing instructions outdoors as you do at home. Wash your hands with soap and warm clean water for at least 15 to 30 seconds.
- Cook. Bacteria such as E. coli, Salmonella and Listeria can be killed by heat. Raw meat, poultry and seafood must be cooked properly to a safe internal temperature to eliminate these bacteria. But you can’t tell by looking – use a digital food thermometer to be sure!
- Hydrate! When the weather heats up and you’re more active, it’s important to stay hydrated. To help stay hydrated, drink plain water plus other beverages like milk, coffee or tea throughout the day.
Have a safe and healthy summer!
For more detailed information on how to stay healthy and safe this summer and all-year round, check out Eastern Health’s ‘Healthy Living A to Z’ pages. ■
This story was written by Deborah Collins, a communications manager with Eastern Health.