It’s the perfect time of year to enjoy great weather and natural outdoor beauty. And if you live in the Pittsburgh area, there are lots of ways to do just that. Not only do we have city-based parks and botanical gardens, but there are lakes, trails, and national forests within driving distance, too! These things and more give us access to exciting seasonal adventures, which then provide us with mental and physical benefits alike.
The catch? Being outdoors can pose health and safety risks if we forget to properly plan for our favorite activities. We don't say this to scare you away from getting outside! Rather, we want everyone to take a moment and to plan their outdoor adventure appropriately. Whether you're a parent taking your children to a park, or an experienced and enthusiastic hiker or camper, these basic guidelines can go a long way in making your trek healthy and enjoyable:
- Always. Wear. Sunscreen! Many people are surprised to learn that nearly 80% of UV rays can pass through clouds. This puts you at risk of sun-related skin damage even on “sweater weather” days. UV rays can also reflect off water, as well as affect our skin while we drive. Because of this, skipping the sunscreen is never an option when you leave the house for any reason. To prevent minor skin damage and burns - and protect yourself from premature aging or even skin cancer - you’ll want to keep your sunscreen on hand at all times; to reapply it every 2 to 3 hours; and to make sure it has an SPF of at least 30.
- Watch the weather. When the standard local forecast is overcast with a chance of showers, it’s easy to get complacent and forget to see what tomorrow may bring. But checking the forecast is important when planning an outdoor activity. Weather patterns like storms can suddenly create dangerous conditions (both in the city and on a remote trail). Alternatively, heat waves can make it too dangerous to travel far from the air-conditioned comforts of home. To avoid dangers such as these, we recommend regularly checking the forecast leading up to your outdoor adventure - particularly if it involves leaving the city limits. That way, you can wear appropriate gear or even reschedule your plans as needed.
- Dress appropriately. Speaking of appropriate gear: when heading outdoors, most of us will dress very differently than we do for our day jobs. With that in mind, we need to think of the weather; the terrain we will be on; how long we will be outside; and what our activity level will be. It also never hurts to plan to accidentally get wet, and no matter how hot the weather will be, it’s never a bad idea to bring a sweater – even if it’s just in case you’ll need a pillow in the car on the way home. (Our biggest piece of advice? Always wear closed-toe shoes when outside, as improper footwear is a serious hazard!)
- Guard against the temperatures. Temperatures are rising as we move further into the year. And those higher temps put more stress on our bodies than lower ones. As a result, higher temperatures combined with an active lifestyle can potentially raise your body’s core temperature to harmful levels. To make things worse, if you don’t drink enough fluids or you exercise too long, your body’s natural cooling systems could fail, putting you at risk of developing heat-related illnesses. Fortunately, as long as you’re careful, these health problems are very preventable. The best thing to do? Read up on the symptoms of heat-related illnesses, so you know what to monitor for and how to address any problems should they develop. Additionally, try to go outside early in the morning or in the evening, when temperatures aren’t as high. If this isn’t possible, schedule breaks that will give your body a chance to cool down. Finally, always bring plenty of fluids on your adventures!
- Beware of bugs. While no bug should deter you when enjoying time outside, it’s important to guard against these pests. Bug bites can get infected and can cause serious reactions - while ticks can carry Lyme Disease, an illness that is treatable in its early stages...but not in later ones. That’s why, while bug spray is important and helpful, tick prevention is the real priority in Pennsylvania. Ticks are often found on the edge of wooded areas, in clearings and long grass, and even in gardens and city parks with foliage. So whether your family lounges together in the yard or heads out for a walk in the park, it’s important to take action to prevent tick bites - as well as conduct a full-body tick check after coming home.
- Grab the right gear. Depending on the outdoor activity you’re participating in, you may need to wear specific types of safety gear. For example, cyclists should wear helmets; paddlers should wear life jackets; hikers should wear hiking boots (rather than normal sneakers); and so forth. It’s important that we always wear the recommended safety gear for each of our favorite outdoor activities. Remember, an accident can strike anytime, and the “better safe than sorry” mantra is especially true when braving the outdoors! So if your activity comes with required or recommended safety gear, use it.
These six pieces of advice may be simple, but they’re also extremely beneficial. Following these basic guidelines (as well as any others specific to your outdoor adventure of choice) will go a long way in making your season fun and safe!
Of course, sometimes we need more specialized advice on our health and safety needs, especially when dealing with the outdoors and rising temperatures. Diabetics, for example, are more prone to heat-related illness than non-diabetics. And this is just one example of a situation where you may need to take additional precautions that address your specific condition.
If you want to get outside but you have medical-related concerns or reservations about doing so, contact us to discuss your needs and options! Allegheny Medical’s care providers are here to help answer your questions and keep you on your personalized path to wellness at all times. Our services can provide you with the information you need to enjoy the outdoors with confidence in yourself and your care plan. So go ahead - call us at 412-494-4550 to schedule an appointment today, or request an appointment online!