Are you ready for summer? Long days of sunshine, pools, family gatherings and social events? While these activities often produce some of the best summer memories, take care; they can also be especially challenging for people with chronic pain. Experiencing summer fun requires some planning and awareness to avoid exacerbating your pain as you make the most of the season.
The summer months can provide more opportunities for patients to be physically active—as long as they take the appropriate precautions. Activities like aqua therapy/pool time and being more physically active in general can be beneficial. Whenever possible, schedule outdoor activities early in the morning, when it’s cooler and the air quality is better.
It is important to stay hydrated, especially in the summer when we spend more time outdoors. Often, sweat will evaporate and dry before we realize how much fluid has left our bodies. Try to make water a special treat by adding flavor, slices of fruit or a sprig of mint. Seek out shade when needed, and if the heat becomes too much, try moving activities and physical therapy indoors. Remember: the sun is the strongest between noon and 3:00 p.m., so avoid doing intense physical activities during this time.
Ticks are most active in June and July. Prevent Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses by avoiding ticks and tick bites. When exploring wooded or tall grassy areas, wear a long-sleeved shirt, hat, long pants tucked into socks, gloves and boots. Also, prevent bee stings, mosquito bites, and spider bites by avoiding fragrances, including hair spray and scented soaps, lotions and oils. Don’t wear brightly colored clothing, particularly floral patterns—in other words, don’t look like a field of flowers.
Take precautions when using the swimming pool. Chronic pain diseases can cause the immune system to be compromised, so avoid swallowing pool water or even getting it in your mouth. (Also, wash your hands often, and don’t hug or shake hands with people who are displaying signs of a cough or congestion.) When you swim, always keep a phone nearby and swim with a buddy in case one of you gets into trouble. As the pain patient in your life may not be used to so much physical activity, using swimming aids such as water wings, life jackets or float belts can be helpful. Keep an eye on them as you would a child in a pool; fatigue, dystonia and cramping can lead to drowning. Another great idea for caregivers is to be CPR, AED and first-aid certified so they can spot potential issues quicker and take lifesaving action as needed.
Most people think of swimsuits and sundresses as perfect summer attire. Remember, though: for your loved ones with chronic pain diseases, covering up to protect exposed skin with long-sleeved tops and long pants with a light weave and breathable material can be even better. Lightweight clothing such as cotton is great for the heat. For those who are light sensitive, sunglasses that block UVA rays and wrap around the face provide that protect your face, ears and head can be helpful as well, and don’t forget to apply sunscreen often.
Now that you are physically ready to face the summer, let’s go over some healthy, tasty foods that are smart, simple, cool and crispy—all things perfect for summer. At this time of year, colorful vegetables are on hand and prices are the lowest. Refreshing vegetable treats can include cucumbers, pickles, baby carrots and celery sticks.
I know I don’t like to use the oven during the summer months, as it heats up the already hot house here in Arizona. Instead, I turn on the grill, chop up some potatoes, bell peppers and onions, give a light spray of cooking oil and dash of spices and wrap it all up in aluminum foil. I also find lighter proteins such as salmon and tuna are easy to grill and good for us. Add a little lemon juice or rosemary for enhanced flavor, and get the great benefit of omegas. Some other meal choices throughout the hot days of summer include grilled corn on the cob, vegetable kabobs and cold, crisp salads.
A slice-and-serve fruit platter is refreshing for an afternoon snack, while you’re waiting for the grill, or for an evening dessert.
Homemade fruit pops and smoothies are fun and easy. For a fast, tasty energy booster, try homemade trail mix that includes nuts, seeds, dried fruit and other antioxidant-rich foods. You can make the whole family happy with these healthy choices.
I hope these tips on outdoor activities, hydration and nutrition help you enjoy a summer of greater agility, less pain and more fun and laughter. With more activity and the feel-good factor created by sunlight, summer caregiving can be less challenging – and a great time for chronic pain patients and their caregivers.