SEATTLE - I have a friend here who goes to Las Vegas in the middle of summer to lay out in the sun, wearing no better than SPF 4 sunblock. He is insane for several reasons.
First, it's boring to just sit in the sun. If I want to sweat, I'll do it while moving so I can multitask, getting a dose of Vitamin D and exercising at the same time. Being a blue-eyed, fair-skinned (and once very freckled) Northwest native, I respect the sun. A tan? Why? So you can have alligator skin?
Second, there's the heat. You should pay attention to it. I know you've waited patiently for "summer," but it's worth showing some respect to the powerful and not always benevolent forces of sun and heat.
"Hydration and acclimation," says Dr. John O'Kane, an assistant professor of orthopedics and sports medicine at the University of Washington. "Those are the two things I'd pay attention to around here this summer. We cool through sweat and need to replenish that by hydrating. And as you exercise in the heat, your body undergoes physiological changes. So when it gets hot, don't go right out and do your biggest run of the year. You have to adjust."
He suggests exercising in the morning and early evenings when the heat is less intense. Wear light, loose-fitting clothes to allow the body's natural cooling process to work. Drinking plenty of water - even while working out - is critical to replenishing.
I've been playing with a gadget called the Heat Watch, made by ExTech. The stopwatch not only records times, but also provides the heat index by measuring temperature and humidity. You can even set an alarm to go off when the heat-index number rises above what you want. The product costs about $40 and isn't heavily marketed here because we're low on the nation's humidity scale.
The National Weather Service and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency put out the Ultraviolet (UV) Index periodically to help Americans plan outdoor activities to avoid overexposure to UV radiation. The agencies report the index as a prediction of the UV intensity at noon, though the actual UV level rises and falls as the day progresses. You can find the index for your area at www.epa.gov/sunwise/uvindex.html.
But what about those rays? Dr. Daniel Berg, associate professor of dermatology in the UW School of Medicine, says covering up is the best way to prevent sun exposure; proper use of sunscreens and sun-shielding clothing are important, too. But behavior goes a long way. Why not choose an early-morning or evening tee time to stay out of the mid-day sun?
Bastyr University provides this advice on protecting your skin:
-Limit direct sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
-Apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes before sun exposure to allow the UV filter substances to develop their full effect.
-Use sunscreens that have both UVB and UVA protection.
-Wear a minimum of SPF 15 sunscreen (some say SPF 30) at all times, and reapply every two hours.
-Use only sunscreens that contain the natural minerals titanium dioxide or zinc oxide as their active ingredients because these minerals block out both UVA and UVB rays.
-Consider sun-protective clothing if you must be out in the mid-day sun for long periods. It should be made of a lightweight, breathable material so sweat can evaporate. A poor choice is 100 percent cotton because it holds sweat instead of allowing it to dissipate and cool the body. An average T-shirt has an SPF of about 4. A tightly woven, white fabric that covers the back, shoulders and neck is best.
There are so many brands and styles of sunscreen available that you pretty much have to try them out and see which best matches your sport, lifestyle and skin. They come in ointments, creams, gels and wipes. The American Academy of Dermatology says your sunscreen should be water-resistant so it won't be easily removed by sweating or swimming.
Sol Sunguard of Seattle advertises different types of sunscreens to meet various sports: for water sports, higher altitudes, aerobic cross-training, golf and even fishing. For instance, says company president Steven Johnson, the lotion for aerobic exercise focuses on allowing the skin to breathe while the altitude lotion is hardier.
A few more reminders: Don't forget to apply lip balm. Wear sunglasses, because the sun does damage to your eyes, too. And pass on tanning in Vegas in August.
(Richard Seven is a staff writer at The Seattle Times. Send questions on workouts, equipment or nutrition to him at: Pacific Northwest magazine, The Seattle Times, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111.)
(c) 2004, The Seattle Times. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.