Cruel summerSummer's a massive health risk, says Dr Nick Summerton
Last week a gent came to visit my GP practice for a health check before he went on his travels away from his home in Yorkshire. When I asked him where he was off to, he said: ‘Cheshire’.
Maybe that’s being a bit over the top, but at least he was planning ahead. Summer isn’t all healthy outdoor living, getting into training for the perfect beach body and a break from the colds and sniffling.
There are all kinds of summer health risks. Holidaying in exotic places is the obvious one – sunstroke, insect bites and exposure to all kinds of bugs your body’s not used to. But there are just as many threats to wellbeing while staying at home or at work.
First up, there’s the tendency for overindulgence and to throw ourselves into the season. That ranges from the lunchtime sunbathers, desperate to get as much of a tan as possible in the hour they’re not in an office, to the impromptu parties in the warmer weather and that stomach-churning cocktail of buckets of alcohol and medium-rare chicken.
We might think we pay the price the next day with a mighty hangover, and it’s all over. But binge drinking can have particular adverse effects on the body, especially the liver and pancreas, and can also lead to strokes and high blood pressure, aside from increasing the risks of having accidents – including getting pregnant and contracting sexually transmitted diseases.
Gardening and sex
Food poisoning can also be quite serious especially in those with a weakened immune system (due to HIV or medications, for example) or with other illnesses such as diabetes. It’s not just the black and bleeding barbecued meat – it’s also the fruit and salad we’ve not bothered to wash that causes food poisoning.
We overindulge in other ways, too. Exercise, gardening, DIY, sex (hopefully not all at the same time – now that’s dangerous). Again, the tradition of trying to squeeze every last drop of fun out of summer can be bad for us.
While evidence suggests blood pressure levels are lower in warmer temperatures, the combination of demands and expectations we put on ourselves – filling up our spare time, working extra hours before a holiday or to catch-up afterwards – leads to spikes in stress. Suddenly having a go at extreme sports, or even just a strenuous jogging routine because of the warmer evenings, can be asking for trouble.
Instead, what we need is to pace ourselves and make sure we keep a sensible balance. Rather than jumping in, we need to know we’re generally fit enough to cope with the daily demands we put on ourselves.
Now’s the time for health checks, whether that’s through benefits offered at work or a chat with an experienced GP over the phone. Ask about the general indicators of health, like BMI, blood pressure and cholesterol, but also about any other concern such as moles and marks on your skin, as well as the state of your liver and pancreas.