Summer in full swing can mean lots more outdoor activities for seniors: Walking, playing with grandkids, gardening, golfing, and more.
But older adults are not always aware of and ready for challenges hot weather can pose. Fact is, for seniors there are more hazards than just those on the golf course, say Northern Indiana-area health experts.
Meeting those challenges successfully depends in part on starting and keeping an exercise routine, says Kim Terpstra, group exercise supervisor at Fitness Pointe in St. John, who leads the Community Hospital’s Functional Living Exercise for Everyone program.
“This time of year many seniors are more active outdoors with family and social events. These events will be more enjoyable for seniors with good balance, range of motion and strength,” says Terpstra. The program’s exercises are designed to strengthen muscles and improve balance, coordination, posture, and agility. The year-round classes attract participants age 40 to 90 and older, says Terpstra. Incorporating strength training also improves bone density.
Regular physical activity can even improve health for some older people with diseases and disabilities, Terpstra says.
If jogging seems daunting, “brisk walking gives you almost the same health benefit as jogging,” says Dr. Vivek Mishra, a vein specialist at Vein and Laser Institute in Munster, Merrillville, Valparaiso, and at Porter Regional Hospital. Mishra says seniors should be mindful of their legs’ condition, including swelling from varicose veins as a backup of blood and fluid in the legs occurs, sometimes an indication of congestive heart failure.
At first those varicose veins are a cosmetic issue, “But if you can see them, long term they can cause skin thickening, pigmentation around the ankles, and leg ulcers,” which need to be treated. A vein specialist can assess the condition and make recommendations, including wearing compression stockings that increase blood flow and keeping feet elevated when seated.
Thirsting for health
Mishra says remaining hydrated is essential for general health. “As you grow older, your reserves (of body fluids) grow lower,” so hydration with water and/or sports drinks is especially important for seniors, who generally experience less thirst, according to aplaceformom.com.
Sue Leahy, president of the American Safety and Health Institute, notes on WebMD that “Sports drinks with electrolytes are far better (than water for hydration) because they help replace salt and retain fluid."
Leg cramping is the first sign of dehydration, says Leahy. "Cool off and drink fluid until it goes away because if you don't, it can progress to heat exhaustion and then heat stroke."
Skin gets thirsty, too. “While skin tends to be less dry during the summer, it's still a good idea to keep the skin hydrated.” says Dr. David Soleymani, founder of Dermio Dermatology in Munster and Chicago. “A common misconception is that drinking water keeps your skin hydrated. It's best to lock moisture into the skin immediately after bathing with a good lubricant/cream.”
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Dr. Karen Jordan, partner at Dermatology Associates of Northwest Indiana, recommends applying moisturizer every day. “Skin becomes much drier with age. Moisturizer will help trap water in your skin and give skin a more youthful appearance.” Look for a moisturizer that contains hyaluronic acid and niacinamide.
But watch out for moisture in the wrong places, like creases and dark damp areas where fungi and yeast tend to flourish, says Soleymani. Heat and sweating can be problematic for those prone to fungal infections. He suggests considering blow drying skin after showering and toweling off to help keep microorganisms in check.
Plenty of outdoor activities—tennis, swimming, picnics, and more—mean exposure to sun. “While we don't want anyone to avoid the sun completely, it makes sense to be wise about exposure to harmful ultraviolet rays,” says Soleymani. He recommends a broad-spectrum sunscreen with sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 to 50. Mishra says SPF 50 is “probably the best.”
Sun protection minimizes UV damage that leads to signs of aging and can cause skin cancer, says Jordan. Her criteria for sunscreen:
• Must contain at least 5% zinc oxide, which blocks the widest range of UV rays. It also stays on the skin instead of being absorbed into the body, considered by many to be safer than some other sunscreens.
• At least SPF 30; very high SPF doesn’t add much value.
• Moisturizing sunscreens, since mature skin tends to be dry.
Try to avoid prolonged exposure to sun, particularly between 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., says Soleymani. “Don’t lie out to get a tan” and seek shade if possible when you're outdoors for a long time.
Jordan recommends protecting all exposed skin, including hands, ears, and lips, with sunscreen, and wearing long sleeves and a hat when possible.
Those age spots? They’re caused by UV exposure, so use sunscreen 365 days a year, Jordan says, with an antioxidant such as a Vitamin C serum underneath. Antiwrinkle creams containing retinoids or retinol make the skin more sensitive to the sun, so consider cutting back on them if you’re outdoors a lot in summer.
Soleymani and Jordan agree seniors should have an annual full-body exam by their dermatologist to check for signs of skin cancer and precancerous spots. Soleymani says any skin lesion that changes in size, shape, or color or rash warrants a checkup.