HEALTH AND FITNESS: FITT and SPF | Options

People who play sports are likely familiar with FITT – frequency, intensity, time, and type – the basic principle of almost all fitness programs. The FITT principle applies to everything from running to weightlifting to yoga. For outdoor athletes, three more letters are important, especially in summer: SPF.

First a little more about FITT. Training recipes are based on four key concepts that make it possible to tailor training to individual goals. Frequency refers to how often you exercise, usually expressed in days per week. The intensity is how hard you work. This could be running or walking speed, or the weight you are lifting. Time is simply how long you exercise per session. Type is the specific type of exercise you do, which we usually call endurance (like walking), resistance (lifting weights), or flexibility (stretching).

Many sports, especially endurance or aerobic training, can be easily done outdoors. Hiking, running, biking, and water sports like stand-up paddle boarding and kayaking are popular outdoor activities, especially in summer. Being active outdoors in nature improves health and wellbeing beyond the fitness benefits of exercise itself. A certain amount of sun exposure is necessary for the production of vitamin D, an essential nutrient. However, excessive sun exposure can increase the risk of skin cancer, the most commonly diagnosed cancer.

Excessive sun exposure is a real risk when you exercise outdoors, especially for long periods of time. Cycling, running, water sports, and skiing have been identified as sports that increase the risk of some types of skin cancer. Unfortunately, the use of sunscreen by outdoor athletes is low. According to survey results, at least half of college athletes never put on sunscreen before games and training, and those who say they use sunscreen do not use it regularly.

Marathon runners who accumulate 1,000 or more hours of sunshine per year while exercising are more likely to develop skin cancer than non-runners, but only about half use sunscreen, according to one study. Regular sunscreen use is even lower in the general population – around 30% of women and 15% of men – so even if you are not an athlete, you are likely to be at risk.

The good news is that there is a lot you can do to reduce your risk of skin cancer while you are outdoors. First and foremost, properly applying (and reapplying every two hours) a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher is the best way to protect exposed skin. Some sunscreens are more water and sweat resistant, but still need to be reapplied regularly.

Second, it is wise to cover exposed skin with light-colored clothing, a hat, and sunglasses. Some items of clothing are more resistant to UV rays than others, so make sure you have a higher UV protection factor (UPF). Of course, to keep you cool, you need to find a balance between protecting your skin and letting it lose sweat and heat.

Third, try to exercise outdoors early in the morning or later in the day when the sunlight is less direct. Remember that you should use sunscreen even on cloudy days as UV rays can penetrate clouds. This is also the case at lower temperatures, so exercising may be more comfortable.

The bottom line is that summer is a great time to be active outdoors. If you take some precautionary measures, you can safely do so, especially when it comes to reducing your risk of skin cancer from excessive sun exposure.

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