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5 outdoor safety tips to keep in mind as summer heat intensifies

Following simple advice can increase the odds you’ll get through the season without so much as a sunburn.

Splashing around in the water is just plain fun. But not taking the proper safety precautions can lead to tragedy.
Splashing around in the water is just plain fun. But not taking the proper safety precautions can lead to tragedy.
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Summer is an ideal time to enjoy outdoor activities. Following some simple advice can increase the odds you’ll surf through the season without so much as a sunburn.

Practice COVID safety

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently updated its mask guidance, permitting fully vaccinated people to go maskless in most settings and to stop physical distancing unless required by other laws, rules and regulations or workplace guidance.

“The risk for vaccinated people gathering with other vaccinated people is extremely low,” said Dr. Michael R. Sayre, a professor of emergency medicine at the University of Washington in Seattle. “If you’re going to a gigantic outdoor concert, different rules apply because you just don’t know the other people,and whether they’re actually vaccinated or not.”

As for that summer vacation? The CDC now says fully vaccinated people can safely travel within the United States, though wearing a mask is still required on planes, trains and other public transportation.

Avoid food poisoning

When dining outdoors, make sure your food is cooked properly, and refrigerate perishables within two hours of serving.
When dining outdoors, make sure your food is cooked properly, and refrigerate perishables within two hours of serving.
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It’s the season of outdoor grilling and hot afternoon picnics. But feasting on improperly prepared or stored items causes millions of cases of food poisoning every year. This can lead to nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or, though rarely, death.

To minimize your risk of foodborne illness:

  • Wash your hands, cookware and surfaces after handling or preparing food
  • Keep raw and prepared foods separate
  • Cook meats to the proper temperature
  • Defrost food in the refrigerator
  • Refrigerate perishables within two hours

The frequency of food-borne illness in the United States is low, “but having food poisoning is certainly no fun, and it can put you out of commission for a few days with symptoms,” said Dr. Benjamin Abella, a professor of emergency medicine and director of the Center for Resuscitation Science at Penn Medicine in Philadelphia.

Stay safe in the water

Splashing around in the water is fun, but not taking the proper safety precautions can lead to tragedy.

From 2005 to 2014, there were about 10 non-boat-related drownings a day in the United States, according to the CDC. Another 332 people die each year from boat-related drownings.

According to the American Heart Association, giving rescue breaths in addition to chest compressions is especially important during CPR in cases of drowning.

About 20% of people who die from drowning are children under 15. For every child who dies from drowning, another five are treated in the emergency room for nonfatal underwater injuries.

Familiarity with the water depth is crucially important, Sayre said, noting that every year, health care professionals see diving accidents, resulting in spinal cord injuries, typically among teenagers.

Stay hydrated

Stay hydrated this summer. Carry a water bottle and sip from it periodically throughout the day, not just when you’re thirsty.
Stay hydrated this summer. Carry a water bottle and sip from it periodically throughout the day, not just when you’re thirsty.
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Drinking enough water sounds like the easiest thing in the world. But thirst is not a foolproof alert system.

“Folks who are elderly often don’t have the thirst response they should and can get dehydrated without feeling thirsty,” Abella said. “One has to be mindful of feeling dizzy or unusually fatigued, confused or foggy-headed.”

Dark-colored urine is another sign to drink something as soon as possible. Severe dehydration can lead to heat stroke, urinary and kidney problems, seizure and death.

Abella recommends carrying a water bottle and sipping from it periodically throughout the day or whenever thirsty.

“Plain old water is fine,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be an electrolyte solution.”

Exercise with caution

Experts recommend limiting outdoor exercise to early morning or late afternoon, staying in the shade during the hottest part of the day and wearing a hat or long clothing to cover the skin.

Such measures also will help to protect against the ultraviolet light that causes sunburn and increases skin cancer risk. And don’t forget to lather up. The CDC recommends applying a thick layer of sunscreen with a sun protection factor of 15 or higher that blocks UVA and UVB rays.

With summer temperatures on the rise, experts recommend limiting outdoor exercise to early morning or late afternoon.
With summer temperatures on the rise, experts recommend limiting outdoor exercise to early morning or late afternoon.
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Exercise is key to health and well-being, but too much activity when the sidewalk is sizzling can cause potentially dangerous heat-related injuries.

People who haven’t been active during the pandemic should go easy at first.

“It takes weeks to months for your heart and muscles to get back into shape,” Sayre said. “Start slow, and build up.”

Muscle pains or cramps, excessive sweating and headache or dizziness are signs it’s time to cool down and drink water. But if you begin to experience dizziness, confusion, nausea or vomiting, or a body temperature of 104 degrees or higher, it could be a sign of a heat stroke — a dangerous, life-threatening condition. In that case, it’s time to call 911.

Though it’s important to know the warning signs of overdoing it, Sayre said, the rewards of outdoor activity far outweigh any potential dangers.

“Do things that are heart-healthy, improve your life, and help you live longer,” he said. “Your body works best if you stress it a little bit.”