Woman smiling and wearing a hat

Let’s cool down: key summer safety tips for seniors

By Wayne Schwartz

We’re already getting a preview of the heat that this summer will bring, with the local heat index rising to the triple digits in early May. Last year, we experienced back-to-back record-breaking months, with June through October each being the warmest months on record, and July being the hottest month ever recorded. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s data shows a 99% chance that 2024 will rank in the top five warmest years to date.

With that said, it’s important to know how to keep cool this summer, especially for seniors in sunny Southwest Florida. Seniors are more prone to heat related illnesses than other age groups for a variety of reasons, including medications that cause increased sun sensitivity and the fact that their bodies cannot adjust to sudden temperature changes as easily as younger adults can. Gulf Coast Village, Cape Coral’s premier life plan community, has put together a guide for staying safe and active this summer.

Stay hydrated

With the summer heat blazing away, it’s important to stay hydrated. Proper hydration has several health benefits and is a preventative of heat related illnesses, such as heat syncope, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Harvard Medicine reports that annually, 80% of fatalities from heat related illnesses are adults over 60, which is why taking the right steps to prevent heat related illnesses is imperative.

Growing up, you were taught to drink eight glasses of water each day, with each glass being eight ounces. With age, it’s recommended for men aged 51 and older to drink 13 cups of fluids daily, and for women aged 51 and older to drink nine cups of fluids daily. Your choice of drink is not limited to just water – fruit juice, vegetable juice and sports drinks can also promote hydration and keep your body cool, but avoid alcohol and caffeine.

Many foods are also hydrating, as they have high water content. Out of all solid foods, cucumbers have the highest water content at 96%, as does iceberg lettuce. Celery and romaine lettuce are close seconds at 95%, and summery fruits like strawberries and watermelon have a water content of 92%. To keep yourself hydrated throughout the summer days, put together a refreshing salad with a side of fruit and a glass of water and reap not just the hydration benefits, but also the fiber, vitamins C and A, and folate benefits.

Stay protected

One of the best ways to stay protected this summer is to stay informed. Tune into your favorite weather channel each morning or evening to see what the week ahead looks like for your area, and plan accordingly. Avoid spending time outdoors when the weather is unbearably hot, and the UV index is high. When possible, opt for participating in activities in the early morning or around sunset, rather than between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. when the sun’s rays are the strongest. If you do want to go outside on a warmer day, make sure to wear sunscreen and reapply as directed; generally, sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using an SPF 30 sunscreen or higher.

It’s normal to reach for shorts and a T-shirt when the temperature climbs, but add a wide-brimmed hat, a lightweight long-sleeved shirt and sunglasses to your ensemble. Wear light-colored clothes to avoid heat absorption – darker clothes tend to absorb heat and can result in discomfort.

Certain medications can cause increased sun sensitivity, so review your prescriptions and speak to your doctor about any concerns that you may have.

Stay active

While the heat of summer may tempt you to cut back on your physical activity, there are ways to stay active while staying safe. Seniors are encouraged to aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week, so instead of cutting out exercise due to fear of overheating, move your fitness indoors or break it up into smaller chunks. Utilize the power of the internet and find a low-intensity exercise class on YouTube that you can participate in from the comfort of your air-conditioned living room or take a short dip in the pool to cool off, while putting all your muscle groups to work.

Seniors can have fun in the summer months, all while beating the heat. Stay hydrated, active and protected – especially if you’ll be staying in Southwest Florida this season.