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In less than a day, summer will have officially begun—bringing with it warmer temperatures and more opportunities to enjoy nature’s many gifts.

But for the elderly and chronically ill, the onset of summer poses a few problems.

In the warmer seasons, temperatures can vary a lot in a 24-hour period. Depending on where you live, the sun may rise on a 60 degree morning, and set on an 80 degree evening.

These tetchy temperatures can be harmful to older adults, according to a recent study from Harvard University.

After gathering data on two decades of chronically-ill Medicare recipients, researchers concluded that irregular temperature fluctuations may cause as many as 10,000 extra deaths among the elderly nationwide each year.

Even tiny temperature increases (less than two degrees Fahrenheit), may increase an aging individual’s risk of death by as much as four percent, depending on which chronic health conditions they suffer from.

The study found that elders suffering from heart disease, heart failure, diabetes and chronic lung ailments were highly susceptible to changing temperatures.

“Older people and those with chronic health conditions have a harder time thermo-regulating and acclimating to heat,” says study co-author, Antonella Zanobetti, Ph.D, a senior research scientist for the Harvard School of Public Health.

Prior research made the association between heat waves and a heightened risk of death. However this is the first study to connect long-term mortality with minor temperature variations, a link that study authors say is becoming increasingly relevant as the consequences of global climate change begin to appear.

Continue reading to discover some helpful tips for staying safe in the summer sun

5 Strategies for Staying Safe in the Summer Heat

Tips for staying safe in the summer sun

With the onset of summer weather, heat waves will both strengthen and lengthen. But that doesn’t mean that an older adult has to hole up in their home and crank up the air conditioning—quite the opposite, actually. Spending time outside can bestow a number of research-backed benefits including mood enhancement, an improved ability to concentrate, elevated vitamin D levels (which helps guard against osteoporosis and cancer) and even faster healing and recovery times.

No matter what your age, the key is to plan outdoor odysseys carefully.

Here are 5 tips for staying safe in the summer sun:

  • Slather on sunscreen early and often: Dermatologists suggest applying at least an entire ounce (the size of a shot glass) of water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen (SPF 30 or higher) a full half-hour before venturing outdoors in the summer. Reapply this same amount every two hours that you’re out in the sun. Remember to put extra protection on often overlooked areas of the body including, the lips, hands, feet, tops of the ears, and any bald spots.
  • Dress for the occasion: The trick to staying cool during summer temperature surges is to don clothing that is loose-fitting and made from tightly-woven fabric. Some clothing lines also carry an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) rating. These designations highlight how protective the fabric of a particular piece of clothing is against ultraviolet radiation from the sun. UPF ratings can range from 15 to 50+. The higher the number, the more radiation that is blocked by the material. For example, a UPF of 50 means that the fabric lets in about 1/50th of the sun’s UV rays. A particular piece of clothing must have a UPF of at least 15 to be deemed “sun-protective.” However if you are planning on spending any length of time outside in the sun, the Skin Cancer Foundation advises wearing clothing with a UPF of at least 30.
  • Invest in the right accessories: A loosely-woven hat with a brim at least 10 centimeters wide is ideal for shielding your head from harmful sun exposure. Also, research has linked excessive sun exposure to a host of eye ailments including: age-related macular degeneration, cancerous growths and cataracts. To protect your eyes from damage, the American Academy of Ophthalmology suggests seeking sunglasses that are wraparound in style and carry the designation “UV400″ or “100 percent UV protection.”
  • Think creatively about hydration: Depending on the person, the traditional maxim of eight glasses of water per day may or may not apply. Instead of weighing down a cooler with a bunch of water, try swapping out some bottles with water-laden foods such as: tomatoes (90 percent water), watermelon (92 percent water), strawberries (91 percent water) and carrots (87 percent water).
  • Seek shady places: Outdoor sojourns are best made to areas that contain many trees and bushes. One of the key findings from the Harvard study was that people in areas with plentiful plant life weren’t as negatively affected by changing temperatures.