It feels good to do an “open air” workout occasionally, especially when the sun is shining and the first signs of spring make the outdoors more inviting. An outdoor workout can be mentally satisfying – the sights, sounds and smells of nature make the time pass more quickly. As a runner and a physician who enjoys an early morning jog in the great outdoors, I realize that exercising outdoors means sun exposure – and even low levels of exposure to ultraviolet light increase the risk skin cancer and premature skin aging. That’s why I always remind patients to protect their skin from the harsh rays of the sun when exercising outdoors during daylight hours. You should do the same. Here are some tips for preventing sun damage when you exercise outside.
Choose Your Exercise Time Wisely
The sun’s rays are strongest between the hours of 10:00 A.M. and 4:00 P.M. Schedule your workout early in the morning or after 3:00 P.M. to reduce the amount of direct sunlight your skin is exposed to. The morning hours are coolest, and, if you start early enough, you can enjoy the beauty of the sun coming up.
Wear a Sunscreen
Never head out the door without wearing a sunscreen. Choose one that blocks both UVA and UVB rays with an SPF of at least 30. A higher SPF compensates for sweating and not applying enough sunscreen, which most people don’t. For maximal protection, put on a full ounce of sunscreen 30 minutes before heading outside.
Look for sunscreens that are waterproof and paraben-free since parabens are under scrutiny as possible hormone disruptors. You can find paraben-free sunscreens at many health food stores and natural food markets.
Wear Sun Protective Clothing
If you exercise outdoors a lot, invest in sun protective clothing. Sun protective clothing blocks more of the sun’s rays than ordinary clothing does. It even has its own rating system called UPF ratings, which are similar to the SPF ratings for sunscreen product. If you put on clothing with an UPF rating of 50, you’ll be exposed to only 2% of the sun’s ultraviolet rays. A regular t-shirt lets about 20% of the sun’s rays through. Add a hat with a visor for additional sun protection for your face and neck.
Another option is to buy a product like Sun Guard. When you wash your clothing in it, it gives your clothing a UPF factor of 30 that lasts up to 20 washings.
Eat More Sun Protective Foods
They won’t take the place of sunscreen, but certain foods offer modest protection against the sun’s damaging rays. Studies show that lycopene-rich foods like tomato sauce and other processed form of tomato like ketchup neutralize some of the damaging effects of the sun by acting as antioxidants.
Another benefit? Lycopene-rich foods also boost production of collagen, the protein that supports skin and keeps it from sagging. Other carotenoids like beta-carotene in foods such as carrots, sweet potatoes apricots, mangos and pumpkin also offer some protection against sun damage. Help yourself to second servings of these foods.
Exercise Sun Protection: The Bottom Line?
Enjoy exercising outdoors when good weather beckons, but don’t forget to protect your skin. You could pay for the time you spend in the sun later with skin cancer and prematurely wrinkled skin. Don’t let outdoor workouts sabotage your skin.
FDA website. “Parabens”
Nutraingredients.com. “Study supports lycopene protecting skin from within”
Journal of Nutrition 2003;133:98-101.