Surviving Summer: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Reading time: 6 – 9 minutes

Summer is the hottest of the four seasons. At the summer solstice, which occurs on June 21st in the Northern Hemisphere and December 22nd in the Southern Hemisphere (when it is summer in the Northern Hemisphere, it is winter in the Southern Hemisphere and vice versa), the days are longest and the nights are shortest. Summer is a great time to spend time outdoors and practice a healthy lifestyle. There are plenty of chances to eat fresh fruits and vegetables, get some sun, and get in shape, whether it be by playing a sport, exercising or just working around the yard.

Healthy lifestyle

However, being active during the hottest season of the year can lead to mosquito bites, bee stings, sunburn, dehydration or even heat exhaustion. Highlight HEALTH looks at surviving summer — the good, the bad and the ugly.

The Good

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is stored in the body’s fatty tissue. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, a mineral essential for bone health. Few foods naturally contain vitamin D; instead, the body makes vitamin D when the skin is directly exposed to the sun.

Sunlight in moderate exposure is good for you and, for most people, is the most important source of vitamin D. A few minutes per day is all you need; five or ten minutes of modest exposure to just the arms, while protecting the head, neck, ears and shoulders, is enough to make plenty of vitamin D. In fact, a recent study by scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory and colleagues in Norway suggests that the benefits of moderate exposure to sunlight may outweigh the risk of developing skin cancer for people deficient in vitamin D [1]. Moreover, people with the lowest vitamin D levels have more than double the risk of dying from heart disease and other causes compared with those with the highest vitamin D levels [2].

Be careful though: sun exposure may affect the body’s ability to break down medicines.

Repeated sun overexposure can lead to wrinkles, discoloration and other signs of premature aging of the skin, as well as skin cancer. You can take these simple steps to help prevent sunburn and skin cancer:

  • use generous amounts of sunscreen (remember, it’s not how high the SPF, it’s how much you use)
  • cover up with long sleeves and a hat
  • stay out of the sun during midday hours, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The Bad

The downside of summer is the bugs: mosquitos, flies, bees, spiders, etc. Bites and stings bring momentary alarm and temporary discomfort. The best way to deal with insect bites and stings is to prevent them before they happen. Here are some tips to remember:

  • stay indoors at dawn and dusk; this is when the flying insects are most likely to be active
  • standing water is a breeding ground for mosquitos; be sure to change out water in animal baths and outdoor water dishes frequently
  • wear lightweight, light-colored and loose-fitting clothing that covers as much skin as possible
  • avoid bright-colored clothes as bees, wasps and yellow jackets see in the UV spectrum and are attracted to bright colors and floral patterns
  • avoid wearing heavy smelling perfumes as insects are attracted to the smells
  • if you are outside at dusk or later, burn citronella candles to repel mosquitos

If you prefer a more eco-friendly approach, try natural repellents that rely on herbal ingredients to either mask or repel mosquitoes and other biting insects. Plants whose essential oils have been found to repel insects for a limited time include citronella, patchouli, clove and makaen [3].

The Ugly

Heat-related dehydration is a big issue in the summer. If you’re active — even if you’re healthy — you’re at risk of dehydration. Dehydration occurs when your body loses more fluid than you take in. And thirst isn’t always the best clue that it’s time to take a drink. Indeed, as we get older, it takes longer to recognize you’re thirsty.

If you’re out in the sun and only replace your electrolyte-packed body fluids with water, you’re at risk for dehydration and heatstroke. Consider drinking sports drinks as they replace some of the salts you lose when sweating. Be sure to drink a minimum of one small liter bottle every hour.

Heat-related illnesses, such as heat exhaustion and heatstroke, occur when the body can’t keep itself cool. Heat exhaustion often occurs when people exercise in a hot, humid place and the body overheats because body fluids are lost through sweating. A person’s temperature may be elevated, but doesn’t exceed 104 F. In contrast, heatstroke is a life-threatening medical condition where the body’s cooling system stops working. A person’s internal body temperature rises to the point where brain damage or damage to other internal organs may result.

The signs of heat exhaustion often begin suddenly. Symptoms resemble those of shock and may include feeling faint or dizzy; nausea or vomiting; heavy sweating; paleness; muscle cramps; weakness or tiredness; and headache. The skin may be cool and moist. The pulse rate will be fast and weak, and breathing will be fast and shallow. Untreated, heat may progress to heat stroke. Seek medical attention if symptoms get worse or last longer than one hour.

When the heat index is high, stay indoors in air-conditioned areas when possible. Schedule your activities for cooler times of the day (before 10:00 a.m. or after 4:00 p.m.) and be sure to take frequent breaks. If you must go outside, take the following precautions:

  • wear lightweight, light-colored and loose-fitting clothing that covers as much skin as possible
  • use generous amounts of sunscreen
  • protect your head from the sun by wearing a hat
  • drink plenty of water before starting an activity outdoors and drink sports drinks or water throughout the day
  • avoid caffeinated and alcoholic beverages

During outdoor activities, take frequent breaks. Drink water or other fluids every 15 to 20 minutes, even if you’re not thirsty. If you have a chronic medical problem, ask your doctor about how to deal with the heat, about drinking extra fluids and about your medications.

Now go spend some time outdoors and enjoy the summer!


  1. Moan et al. Addressing the health benefits and risks, involving vitamin D or skin cancer, of increased sun exposure. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2008 Jan 15;105(2):668-73. Epub 2008 Jan 7.
    View abstract
  2. Dobnig et al. Independent Association of Low Serum 25-Hydroxyvitamin D and 1,25-Dihydroxyvitamin D Levels With All-Cause and Cardiovascular Mortality. Arch Intern Med. 2008 Jun 23;168(12):1340-9.
    View abstract
  3. Trongtokit et al. Comparative repellency of 38 essential oils against mosquito bites. Phytother Res. 2005 Apr;19(4):303-9.
    View abstract
About the Author

Walter Jessen is a senior writer for Highlight HEALTH Media.