How to Avoid the Pitfalls of Memorial Day
From light eating to the No. 1 beach danger, here are tips to making your Memorial Day healthy and safe.
By Heather Hatfield
Reviewed By Michael Smith
After months of patiently waiting, it's finally here: the sizzling hot days of summer. With summer serving as the unofficial start to the celebrated season of sun, you want to make sure it's as healthy and safe for you and your family as possible.
From traffic safety to diet reminders, here are tips experts gave WebMD that will have you starting your summer off on the right flip-flop.
The Season of BBQs
Summer is synonymous with barbecues: hamburgers, hot dogs, potato salad, and ice cream. But does the start of summer mean the end of your healthy diet and bathing-suit ready figure? It doesn't have to, an expert from the American Dietetic Association tells WebMD, and she recommends you start by taking advantage of the healthy foods that are in season.
"Enjoy plenty of fruits and veggies, which are fresh and delicious and starting to be more abundant by summer weekend," says Lola O'Rourke, a registered dietitian in Seattle. "If you're grilling, cook a veggie kabob as part of the meal."
Then, the trick is to eat the veggie kabob first, so you take the hunger-edge off before digging into the more diet-dangerous foods, such as burgers and chips.
"When it comes to burgers, they can be enjoyed, but keep portion size moderate," says O'Rourke, who is a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. "Similarly with chips, watch portion size and choose baked chips if you can."
And when you do indulge in that burger, balance it out with some exercise.
Hitting the Road
With millions of people starting the summer season by taking a road trip, the AAA recommends keeping these travel tips in mind:
Summer Safety for Kids
For kids, parents need to keep a few essentials in mind for the summer, starting with SPF.
"For summer safety, you need to avoid sunburn and use good sun protection," says Jeffrey Weiss, MD, head of general pediatrics at Phoenix Children's Hospital in Arizona. "I think for most kids, the recommendation is at least SPF 25."
Another tip for the summer is to make sure your kids are properly buckled up.
"Parents should be reminded to put their kids in appropriate car seats," says Weiss, who is also a spokesman for the American Academy of Pediatrics.
For kids aged 4-8, that means positioning booster seats -- something a lot of parents aren't even aware exist.
"A lot of parents are putting their kids in that age range in adult seat belts when the kids aren't really ready for them," says Weiss. "Positioning seats are glorified phone books -- they raise the child up so the shoulder harness properly crosses the chest and the lap belt properly crosses the pelvic bone."
Weiss also reminds parents of these summer safety tips:
Rip Currents: No. 1 Beach Danger
What is responsible for eight out of 10 beach drownings? The answer: rip currents. This is common on many U.S. beaches -- even in shallow water, says Richard E. Gould, parks director for the Santa Clarita, Calif., and national statistics coordinator for the U.S. Lifesaving Association. They're often misnamed rip tides or undertows. But they aren't tides, and they don't pull you under water.
It starts on a windy day, usually before or after a storm. Winds blow up waves that crash over a near-shore sandbar. Gravity pulls the water back to sea, but more waves -- and the sandbar -- keep it from flowing out. Eventually, tons of water flow sideways along the shore. This is called a longshore current. If you've ever gone swimming and found yourself pulled far from your blanket on the beach, you've been in a longshore current.
But sooner or later, all that water has to go somewhere, says B. Chris Brewster, retired San Diego lifeguard chief and national certification committee chair for the U.S. Lifesaving Association. Brewster is widely regarded as an expert on rip currents.
"Surf pushes water inside the sandbar, and once pressure builds up there is a collapse of the sandbar," Brewster tells WebMD. "What makes this particularly dangerous is that people inside the sandbar have this sense of calm. They seem to be sheltered from most of the wave turbulence. They are often waders who get sucked out through the sandbar like it was a toilet flushing."
When there's a break in the sandbar, the longshore currents head out to sea. As they funnel through the break, they get incredibly strong. This is a rip current. It can flow as fast as 5 mph -- faster than an Olympic swimmer and stronger than the strongest man on earth. Contrary to popular belief, someone caught in a rip current isn't pulled under water. And it won't flow to France -- the rip current dissipates just beyond the breakers. But it's still a killer.
"When you're at the beach, rip currents are the most important thing you need to worry about," Gould tells WebMD. "If there's no lifeguard, it's not safe. Everything I've read suggests there's a significant rip current problem on the Florida Gulf coast -- but no lifeguards."
Ironically, when you're walking on the beach, rip currents look very inviting.
"Rip currents form underwater channels that you wouldn't be able to spot standing on the shore," Brewster says. "What you see is an area where the waves are less likely to break as quickly or as violently. So you walk along the shore and see this calm area. People tend to be attracted to those areas -- the most dangerous ones on the beach."
Surviving a Rip Current
As deadly as rip currents are, it's not that hard to survive one -- if you stay calm and know exactly what to do.
"To get out, just tread water and allow the rip current to carry you out -- they tend to dissipate outside the breaking surf," Brewster says. "Then you can wait for help, or swim around the rip current and back to shore. But few people have the calm to do this. Most drown because they swim against it and tire out."
So for most people, Brewster recommends swimming parallel to the shore. One doesn't have to be a very strong swimmer to do this. Rip currents aren't exactly narrow, but they are concentrated in one place. In a short while, most swimmers should be outside the current and able to make it back to shore.
Sometimes the rip current is diagonal to shore. If you try to swim parallel to shore but aren't making any progress, Brewster says, turn around and swim parallel to shore in the other direction. That should do the trick.
Saving Someone Caught in a Rip Current
Brewster literally put together the book on open-water lifesaving -- his text is used all over the world. Here's his advice on how to save someone caught in a rip current:
As summer draws near, keep in mind that safety doesn't only apply to pavement.
"Before you go boating during the summer, plan ahead," says Amy Bednarcik, vice president of the American Boating Association. "Has your boat been properly spring commissioned -- has someone looked at all its components and made sure it is operational? Take the boat out for a test drive before summer to make sure it's working properly, and make sure your safety equipment is in good shape -- that the life preservers are fully functional and you have enough of them."
Like the open road, boating should not involve alcohol.
"The biggest thing is to not to drink and boat," says Bednarcik. "A lot of people equate boating with drinking, and studies show that half the fatalities that take place on the water happen because someone is under the influence."
Other tips from the ABA to ensure a safe summer boating excursion include:
Originally published May 27, 2004.
Medically updated May 13, 2005.
SOURCES: Amy Bednarcik, vice president, American Boating Association, Harwich, Mass. Justin McNaull, spokesman, American Automobile Association, Arlington, Va. Lola O'Rourke, registered dietitian; spokeswoman, American Dietetic Association, Seattle. Jeffrey Weiss, MD, spokesman, American Academy of Pediatrics; head of general pediatrics, Phoenix Children's Hospital, Phoenix, Ariz. U.S. Coast Guard Office of Boating Safety.
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