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Tips for Exercising Outdoors

In Spring, more daylight before and after work means more time to get outside and exercise. While a run in the sun can be a pleasant alternative to a rainy evening spent on the treadmill, it’s important to prepare and protect yourself from harmful UV rays. Not only is UV radiation the leading factor in the development of skin cancer but it’s also the most preventable cause of the disease.¹ What's more, UV rays can contribute to eye damage and up to 90 percent of the visible signs of skin aging, such as age spots and wrinkles.² Despite these risks, it’s still possible to enjoy the benefits of outdoor exercise provided you protect yourself. As an accomplished triathlete and skin cancer doctor, ASCC’s Dr Mary Boyling is well versed in fitness and sun safety. Here, she offers her 5 top tips for exercising in the sun.

  1. Go out early or late
    The safest time for outdoor exercise is before 10am and after 4pm. An early morning work-out is a great way to start the day - not only will you feel energized but you’ll also give your metabolism a kick-start. If you can’t fit it in early, wait until evening when the sun’s rays aren’t as strong. If in doubt, always check the UV index before heading out. Any rating higher than three increases your risk of sun burn and skin damage so be wary.
  2. Prepare your skin
    Not only is sunburn painful but it can also disrupt your workout plans. You can prepare and prevent sun damage with the right sunscreen. Apply a generous amount of SPF 50+ broad spectrum, water resistant sunscreen to clean, dry skin, at least 15 minutes before sun exposure. Because sunscreen can’t withstand prolonged exercise, you should keep some in your gym bag or pocket and reapply it every hour.
  3. Wear the right clothing
    Clothing is our first line of defense against the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays and protects us by absorbing or blocking much of this radiation. It’s best to wear clothes made from lightweight fabric such as microfiber polyesters and cotton blends to keep you cool in the heat. The more skin you cover, the better – long leggings offer more protection than shorts and a long-sleeved, collared top covers more skin than a t-shirt. Top it all off with a hat and UV protective sunglasses and you’re good to go.
  4. Take your time
    As the temperature heats up, you may need to adjust your usual exercise routine. Start your workout slowly and don’t be afraid to take breaks. It’s best to allow yourself 8- 14 days to acclimatize, gradually increasing the length and intensity of your training. Within that time-frame, your body will learn to decrease your heart rate, decrease your core body temperature, and increase your sweat rate.
  5. Seek Shade
    Cities are often hotter than surrounding areas as asphalt and concrete retain heat. If you’re exercising in an urban area, pick routes with shade. Shaded parks can significantly reduce UV exposure and provide cool, comfortable spaces for physical activity.³ Look for surfaces that don't easily reflect UV, e.g. natural, dark or rough surfaces such as grass, soil and tanbark.

¹Cancer Council NSW
²Runners World on Line
³Sun Smart