What comes to your mind when you plan your summer? Beaches and barbecues? Family vacations and making new memories? Whatever your summer traditions may be, this season is a great time to enjoy the outdoors.
The spread of COVID-19 may have changed your summer plans as you picked a new vacation destination or hosted a barbecue with a smaller group. But as you enjoy this atypical summer, it’s also important to remember a few simple ways to help lower your cancer risk and stay healthy.
Take Care of Your Skin
As the weather warms up, most of us spend more time outside to soak up the sunshine. And it’s safe to enjoy the outdoors as long as you are protecting your skin from the sun’s damaging rays. Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation is the primary cause of skin cancer, which is the most common type of cancer in the United States. The majority of skin cancers, however, are highly treatable and even more importantly, highly preventable.
Whether you are outside for 30 minutes or one hour, the sun can damage your skin in as little as 15 minutes if you aren’t taking precautions. Here are a few recommendations to help protect yourself and your family:
- Spend time in the shade. Take a break from the sun and seek shade under an umbrella or tree. This will help limit your direct exposure to the sun, especially when UV rays are the strongest between 10am and 4pm.
- Cover up. When possible, wear clothing that covers up your skin. If you are at the beach, try wearing a t-shirt or a cover-up. Wear sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat that shades your face, ears and back of your neck.
- Use sunscreen. Put on broad spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 15 or higher before you go outside, even if it’s cloudy. The UV rays can penetrate some clouds and still cause skin damage. Reapply sunscreen every couple of hours, especially after swimming or sweating.
- Avoid tanning beds. Tanning beds can cause serious long-term skin damage and contribute to skin cancer.
Follow Cancer-Safe Grilling Guidelines
Cooking meat at high temperatures is known to produce cancer-causing chemicals. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are present in flames that can stick to the surface of meat and heterocyclic amines (HCAs) form in meat when its proteins react to the intense heat of the grill. In lab studies, these substances have been linked to development of cancer through changes to the DNA.
But it is possible to make summer grilling both healthier and more flavorful by following these five steps:
- Mix up the meat. Diets high in red and processed meat increase cancer risk, so don’t stick to just burgers and hot dogs. Try using herbs and sauces to enhance the flavor of chicken and fish that should be added to your plate.
- Marinate. Studies suggest that marinating meat, poultry and fish for at least 30 minutes can reduce the formation of HCAs. Using a mixture that includes vinegar, lemon juice or wine along with oil, herbs and spices seems to be the key.
- Partially pre-cook. You can reduce the time your meat is exposed to flame by partially cooking it in a microwave, oven or stove first.
- Stay low. Cook the meat over a low flame. Doing so can reduce the formation of both HCAs and PAHs and help keep burning and charring to a minimum.
- Add some color. Grilled vegetables taste great! And by loading up on plant foods, you can cut back on red and processed meats. Try onions, zucchini, eggplant, bell peppers or tomatoes in thick slices on the grill.
Practice Physical Distancing
Even though more beaches, restaurants and other public places are opening, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stresses that limiting face-to-face contact with others is the best way to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Stay at least 6 feet (about 2 arms’ length) away from other people to help protect yourself and others.
Remember, people can spread the virus before they know they are sick, so it’s important to keep your distance from others when possible. For more information on physical distancing and the latest updates on COVID-19, please visit the CDC’s website.
Enjoy the Season
These are stressful times for everyone and it’s important to take a break from the news and social media. Get outside to take a walk, read a book or make the time for your favorite activity. If you have kids, USA Today has some great tips for re-creating summer camp at home. Find creative ways to keep your summer traditions alive, while staying healthy and safe.