Fit 5: Protection from the sun

Fit Five is a column by health science major and USF track sprinter Shannon Gordon. Drawing from her education and experience, Gordon lists five ways to improve health and fitness.

With the temperature consistently high again, students may be getting excited for tanning, swimming and other outdoor activities.

The sun often gets a bad rep, but the adverse effects on the body from harmful UV rays can quickly outweigh the suns benefits, if proper precautions are not taken.

One of the greatest benefits of the sun is its abundance of vitamin D. High levels of vitamin D can increase performance and strength while low levels can increase the risk of injury. The warmth and light from the sun also prevent seasonal depression and allow for more outdoor physical activities.

Follow these helpful sun protection tips to minimize health risks while maximizing fun and keeping a tan.

1. Plan wisely.

If youre working out or doing work outside, try getting outside activities done in the early morning or late afternoon.

Most sun damage occurs between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Mornings are best because there is still a lingering UV effect throughout the afternoon.

2. Stay hydrated.

Staying hydrated throughout hot summer days decreases your risk of heatstroke and dehydration. Water is the healthiest option, and alcohol and caffeinated drinks should be avoided at all costs because they dehydrate your body.

However, if you are indulging in alcohol or caffeine, try to spend most of your time in shady or cooler areas. Eight glasses of water are recommended per day, especially if you are active.

3. Check your sunscreen.

You should apply sunscreen daily, but on an extremely sunny beach day it is a necessity. Not all sunscreens are created equal.

Look for sunscreen that contains zinc oxide because it protects against both UVB and UVA rays, according to Also, make sure your lip balm contains at least SPF 15 because the skin on your lips is especially vulnerable to UV damage. This area is often neglected, as not all lips balms contain SPF and reapplication is often forgotten.

The time of application is also very important. Sunscreen should be applied 20 minutes before exposure, so it can properly bind with the skin. Reapplication should be done every two hours, and if your formula is not waterproof then reapply every time your body is fully dried off after getting out of water.

4. Eat the right foods.

Tomatoes, carrots and orange peppers are great vegetables to enjoy on a hot, sunny day.

They all have high amounts of beta-carotene, which helps protect the skin against free-radical damage from excessive sun exposure. They are also water-dense, so they can help keep your body hydrated.

Tomatoes and orange and red peppers also contain lycopene, which neutralizes the effects of UV rays and free radicals. It is also important to keep your sodium intake up when you spend a lot of time in the sun. Sweating flushes out a lot of the sodium in your body, and drinking a lot to stay hydrated can also upset your sodium-water balance. Enjoy lightly salted almonds to provide a healthy dose of sodium. Almonds also maintain flat abs and reduce bloating.

5. Save your skin.

If you neglected all of the steps above after a long day in the sun, then you probably got sunburned.

Aloe vera is the best natural remedy for sunburns because of its many anti-inflammatory properties. You can cut the gel straight out of an aloe plant, or you can find an aloe vera product that contains 95-100 percent pure aloe at some drugstores.

The aloe sap straight from the plant can be a bit sticky and smelly, but it is recommended over the store-bought brand because some compounds in aloe gel break down quickly, according to