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To Your Health: Staying Safe in Summer Sun

Last updated: Jul 31, 2018

The following article is written by Kenneth Bannerman, MD, FACC a cardiologist with Summit Medical Group. Dr. Bannerman is a fellow of the American College of Cardiology. He has been a member of the American College of Cardiology Council of the New Jersey Chapter and New Jersey State Medical Society. While at the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center he coauthored articles and abstracts about coronary blood flow that were published in Circulation, American Journal of Cardiology, and Journal of the American College of Cardiology. When he is not working with his patients, Dr. Bannerman enjoys playing classical bass, long-distance bicycling, hiking, skiing, racquetball, and reading. The article is part of an ongoing health series contributed by SMG physicians for Montclair Local.

Now that summer is upon us, we are ready to play outdoors. My wife and I are gearing up for a one-week bicycle tour of the Colorado Rockies. Many of us are enjoying the Jersey Shore or summer sports leagues. All of these activities can help us relax and stay in shape, but recreation can also be dangerous. How can we reduce our risk?

Let’s start with biking. As a cyclist who has ridden up to 1,500 miles in a year, I have witnessed a number of mishaps. What I have learned is the importance of obeying traffic rules.

Some bikers ride on the left side of the road. Riding into oncoming traffic is dangerous and can result in accidents when cars pull out of parking spaces or make turns at an intersection. As a driver, I always give a cyclist extra room in case they fall. I trail behind slowly until it is safe to pass. If the bike hits a small pothole or a patch of sand, it could be deadly.

Next time you go for a spin, please remember these tips: 1. Wear a helmet. 2. Wear brightly-colored clothing. 3. Use lights at dawn, dusk and nighttime. 4. Use a mirror to check your surroundings. 5. Be aware of cars at intersections. 6. Do not ride two across. 7. Obey stop signs and traffic lights.

Swimming is another enjoyable way to stay fit as long as you respect the water. At public pools and beaches, make sure there is a lifeguard. When you go for a dip at home, swim with a buddy. If you are feeling tired or overheated, take a break.

Being in the sun is refreshing, but its ultraviolet rays are harmful. As a child, I spent many days at Jones Beach. I never used sunscreen until I had a basal cell carcinoma removed a few years ago. It was a wake-up call. Tans are pretty, but skin cancer is not. If you want to avoid skin cancer, avoid the sun. Now, I apply every time I go outside.

Not all sunscreens are the same. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends sunscreens that have a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 or higher (you don’t need to go beyond SPF 50), broad-spectrum (UVA and UVB) coverage, and be water- or sweat-resistant. Reapply every two hours, put the first coat on 15 to 30 minutes before you go outside, and avoid the strongest sun rays between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

The ultraviolet rays of the sun can also be harmful to the eyes, predisposing you to growths called pterygium, cataract formation and macular degeneration. Both children and adults should wear sunglasses labeled either “UV 400 protection” or “100 percent UV blocking.”

Heat illness is also a concern I have experienced first-hand. I once became very sick after biking during a heat wave in the Shenandoah Valley. I was lucky; every year we hear about a young athlete dying from heat stroke. The young, the elderly, and people with medical conditions are also vulnerable. Lack of access to air conditioning or fluids can be major risk factors. Stay in the shade, keep yourself hydrated and wear loose-fitting clothing.

As a cardiologist I appreciate the value of exercise, which is one reason I ride a bike. In fact, a recent study published in the British Medical Journal found that cycling to work cuts your risk of heart disease and cancer almost in half. But none of that matters if you do not ride responsibly and protect yourself from the harmful effects of the sun. Best wishes for a safe, happy summer.

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