Beat the top summer health hazards

IstockphotoIstockphotoBy Tula Karras

Even though you haven't had summers off since you were in school, the sunshine and warm breeze can still set off that can't-stay-indoors-another-second feeling. But before you race outside, make sure you're ready for everything the season can throw at you. That means more than just slathering on sunscreen: the last thing you want is to have to sit out with a sprained ankle, a case of food poisoning, or raging poison ivy. Follow our warm-weather guide and you won't miss a single opportunity for outdoor action.

Follow the 10 percent rule
Yes, you want to be in shape for bikini season, but getting too gung ho about exercising all at once can lead to overuse injuries. Instead, ramp up slowly: increase your activity level by 10 percent every week. "And don't be a weekend warrior," says Nancy Yen Shipley, MD, an orthopedic surgeon in Richmond, Virginia, and spokeswoman for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. It's better to do 20 minutes of outdoor activity each day than to cram in a three-hour session on the weekend.

Health.com: 20 ways to torch 200 calories

Walk before you run
Don't jog a path that you haven't walked first-unfamiliar terrain is a common cause of slips and sprains, Dr. Yen Shipley says.

Practice safe gardening
With all that lifting, twisting, and bending, gardening can be surprisingly strenuous. Use your legs when you squat, and choose long-handled tools so you won't have to stoop over as much. When doing a repetitive task, like raking, switch sides often so you don't overuse the muscles on one side of your body.

Health.com: Injury-proof your gardening

Chill out
Heat rash, which results when sweat ducts become blocked, usually appears as tiny bumps in folds of skin or where fabric chafes against the body. To prevent it, choose breathable cotton clothing, avoid heavy ointments and creams (they can block sweat ducts), and choose oil-free sunscreens. Stay dry, too, because moisture can worsen the condition. If you develop a rash, get out of the heat, apply cold compresses, and use an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream to quell itching.

Learn your leaves
Poison ivy, sumac, and oak aren't just woodland hazards: the hardy creepers can also pop up at the beach, in your backyard, and in parks.

Health.com: How to avoid summer skin problems

Scrub it off, stat
If you think you've brushed up against a problem plant, wash immediately with soap and water. (Garden tools or clothing can also harbor the plant's irritating oils, so watch what you touch and clean up if you suspect an object you've come in contact with may be contaminated.) If the oil is absorbed into your skin, a rash usually shows up within a day or two, says Jackie Eghrari-Sabet, MD, an allergist in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and a fellow of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI). Hydrocortisone cream, calamine lotion, diphenhydramine cream (like Benadryl), and oral antihistamines can all help ease itching and swelling, but it will take about a week for symptoms to go away.

Keep it clean
A picnic table littered with sugary drinks is like a standing invitation to bees and wasps. "A classic case of getting stung involves someone leaving a soda can out, a bee flies into the can, the person raises it to their lips and...pow!" Dr. Eghrari-Sabet says. Standing water is a no-no, too. Mosquitoes use water as a breeding ground, so keep buckets and wading pools empty when not in use. And at least once a week, check and empty flowerpots, birdbaths, and anywhere else water can collect around your yard.

Health.com: Defend against bug bites

Make yourself unappetizing
Bright colors are the equivalent of a sexy teddy for stingers. Instead, dress in light colors and pastels; lighter colors also make it easier to spot ticks. Skip perfumed products-if it smells good to you, it's alluring for bees, as well.

Spray away
If you're going to be outdoors for an extended time, or if mosquitoes and ticks are common where you live, spray clothing (but not skin) with the repellent permethrin, found in brands such as Sawyer. For shorter stints outdoors, skin-safe bug repellents with picaridin or DEET (such as Off!) are also effective-the higher the concentration, the longer they'll work. If you prefer a repellent made from natural ingredients, consider those that contain oil of lemon eucalyptus or IR3535 (the ingredient in several of Avon's Skin-So-Soft Bug Guard products), which are generally as effective against mosquitoes as a low-concentration DEET product.

Bitten? Act fast
Start by reaching for some ice. "Ice is an anti-inflammatory, so it keeps the swelling and itching to a minimum," says Bruce Robinson, MD, a dermatologist in New York City and a clinical instructor of dermatology at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine. An over-the-counter antihistamine can help tame swelling and itching around the bite or sting site, but if you develop hives or itching all over, facial swelling, or trouble breathing, call 911-you may be having a severe allergic reaction. If you develop a fever and aches, which can be signs of a West Nile virus infection (transmitted by mosquitoes) or Lyme disease (transmitted by ticks), see your doc; ditto if you see the hallmark "bull's-eye" rash of Lyme.

Health.com: The latest on Lyme disease

Cool it
To prevent foodborne bacteria from paying a visit to your picnic, keep eats as cold as possible during transport-40 degrees or colder. A full cooler stays colder longer than a partially filled one, so pack food straight from the fridge and pour on ice to the brim. You'll know your cooler is keeping food cold enough if your ice or gel packs are still frozen when you get to your picnic spot. Once you set up your spread, leave food out for no more than two hours-no more than an hour if it's 90 degrees or hotter out.

Marinate smarter
Marinate meat and fish in the fridge, not at room temperature. And never use marinade that's touched raw meat or fish as a sauce for cooked food.

Check your temps
Cook meat fully to kill common foodborne bacteria like salmonella, campylobacter, and E. coli. Stick a meat thermometer in the center of the meat, and don't serve it until it hits 160 degrees for ground beef or steak cooked medium, 145 degrees for steak cooked medium-rare, or 165 degrees for poultry.

Health.com: How to keep summer foods safe outdoors

Got asthma? The best way to breathe easier
Hot, sunny weather can be bad news if you have asthma, which is 40 percent more common in women than in men. The reason summer is an asthma bummer is air quality. When the sun's rays meet air pollutants, the result is a combination of ground-level ozone and other pollutants, also known as smog. Smog can inflame airways and cause wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath, especially in asthmatics, whose airways are hypersensitive. If you've got asthma, check local air-quality conditions and stay inside on code orange days, whenever possible.