There's nothing like the sweet relief of peeling off a sweat-soaked sports bra after a long outdoor workout. But those little red and white bumps that crop up along your bra line? Not so much. If the bumps are white or colorless and don't hurt, they're probably blocked sweat glands, says David J. Leffell, M.D., a professor of dermatology at the Yale School of Medicine and author of Total Skin: The Definitive Guide to Whole Skin Care for Life. Try airing out the area as much as possible, and alternate between racerback and tank styles to avoid irritating the same area of skin. If the bumps are red and tender, they're likely pimples; apply an OTC acne treatment with salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide to dry them out, he says.
Wet swimsuits, kayaks, sweaty gym shorts? They can irritate your vagina, says Melissa M. Goist, M.D., assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at The Ohio State University Medical Center. "The vulva likes to be dry," she says. Prolonged moisture and heat—from hanging around in a wet swimsuit or gym shorts, or sitting in a water-logged kayak for hours—can disrupt the vagina's delicate pH balance, tipping the scales in favor of bad guys like yeast and other bacteria and resulting in irritation, itching, discharge, or odor. Swimmers, if it's not hot enough for the sun to dry you off quickly, change out of your bathing suit and into clean cotton undies. Just got back from a bike ride or rollerblading session? Wash up in the shower (no soap necessary) and pat dry.
On a gorgeous summer morning, Charlotte Hilton Andersen headed out for her usual 5-mile loop around the lake. "I thought it would be so nice to be in the sunshine, running through the tall grass, like a model in an exercise apparel catalog," the Minneapolis native recalls. But afterwards, as she began to shave in the shower, Andersen was horrified to find six ticks embedded in her calves and ankles. Engorged to the size of pencil erasers with her blood, the ticks concerned Andersen enough to send her to the doctor, where she expressed concern over Lyme Disease.
An inflammatory disease spread through tick bites, Lyme presents as flu-like symptoms (chills, fever, headache, fatigue, muscle pain) and may have a "bulls-eye" rash. Diagnosed early, it can be cured with antibiotics, but without treatment, complications involving the joints, heart, and nervous system may occur. Fortunately, Andersen was safe: Her doctor said ticks typically need to be attached for 36 hours to transmit infection. Plus, the size of her buggers indicated they were non-Lyme-carrying dog ticks. Still, the mom of four sprays her entire family—herself included—with DEET-containing bug spray before going out, and she no longer frolics through tall grass. "I stay on the trail and if I see one little weed, I'll jump over it," she says.
In its elemental form, chlorine is so toxic that it has been used as a weapon in chemical warfare! That won't shock diehard swimmers, who often swear that their pool has declared war against their skin, hair, and eyes. This greenish-yellow gas is necessary to disinfect the water, but in the process it may discolor and dry your locks.
Save your strands with a swim cap, making sure to rinse well in the shower immediately after swimming, and protect your eyes from stinging and tearing with well-fitting goggles. As for your skin, follow your laps with a moisturizing bodywash and slather on a fragrance- and alcohol-free lotion. Dr. Leffell also reminds you to wear sunblock when swimming outside—your back is especially at risk when you swim crawl or breast stroke —and suggests a UV-protective bathing suit (Google "sun protective clothing" for options).
Balmy nights beckon to you, "Come outside and play with me!" But a combination of driver fatigue and poor vision puts evening exercisers at risk. In fact, traffic death rates are three times greater at night than during the day, according to the National Safety Council. "At the end of the day, the car is always going to win, so it's your job to get out of its way," says Dimity McDowell, co-author of Run Like a Mother: How to Get Moving—and Not Lose Your Family, Job, or Sanity. She suggests running against traffic and keeping a wide shoulder if you're jogging in the street (some runners prefer the softer pavement to sidewalks), and encourages runners, bikers, and rollerbladers to make eye contact with drivers, especially at crowded intersections, to ensure they see you. (For the same reason, steer clear of cars' blind spots. If you can't see the driver in the rearview mirror, she can't see you.)
Wear light colors—white, bright pink, yellow—and clothing with reflective features. "I always like to have five reflective hits," McDowell says. "My running shoes, shirt, shorts, and hat." You can also purchase reflective tape and wrap it around your arm or make a giant X on your shirt.
Tan lines around your ankles are hardly the worst consequence of skipping your sun block on a midday jog. According to a recent data review in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer, is on the rise among young women ages 15 to 39.
"It's easy to be lulled into a false sense of security while exercising outdoors in the summer," Dr. Leffell says. "You're enjoying what you're doing, but you're also wearing less clothing and may forget you're exposing yourself to more sun than usual." Always apply a sweat-proof, water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30 (look for avobenzone or zinc oxide as ingredients) every two to three hours. Experiment with brands until you find one that doesn't sting your eyes when you sweat. (Dr. Leffell recommends Coppertone Sport 100.) Don't forget the tops of your ears, scalp, hands, tops of feet (for cyclists), and any décolletage peeking through your V-neck. "We're also seeing a lot of precancerous changes in the lower lip in younger adults," Dr. Leffell warns, "often in runners, boaters, and people doing persistent activities in the sun." Slick on an SPF 30 lip balm.
Should you slack off and get burned, Dr. Leffell suggests you take aspirin or Motrin, soak in a tepid oatmeal bath, and "moisturize, moisturize, moisturize."
It's the first hot day on the beach and you can't resist joining that volleyball game. It's not an inherently dangerous sport—ankle sprains and knee pain top the list of major risks—but factor in slippery sand below and a broiling sun overhead and amateur spikers may be setting themselves up for a red card. Keep sun and sand out of your eyes with UV-protective glasses and don't forget to reapply sunblock between sets. If a headfirst dig into the sand leaves you with cuts or abrasions, be sure to rinse them with clean water and cover with a bandage. And before you start playing, sweep the area for any broken glass, bottles, or large rocks.
If beach volleyball is going to be your summer sport, American Council on Exercise program coordinator Julia Valentour, M.S., suggests strengthening your shoulders and rotator cuffs pre-season to prevent injuries from blocking and spiking. Try what she calls Door-Knockers: Extend you arm horizontally, holding your forearm up as if you were swearing under oath. Grab a piece of tubing or an exercise band attached to a wall or door in front of you and pull back a few inches.
When runner and author Dimity McDowell found herself on the third leg of a July triathlon—the 6.2 mile run—feeling woefully dehydrated from the swim and bike portions, she knew she was in trouble. "My legs cramped up. Every step takes the effort of four steps. I hadn't drunk enough and my performance suffered."
To avoid her fate, always be sure to down 17 to 20 ounces of water two hours prior to heading out. Once you're cycling, running, or playing tennis/softball/soccer, swig 10 ounces every 10 to 20 minutes, adjusting for heavy sweating. McDowell suggests filling a water bottle three-fourths full the night before and freezing it; take it out a few hours before your run or bike ride and fill with water. "You'll never regret carrying it, but you'll always regret not carrying it," she promises. Afterwards, drink 16 to 24 ounces for every pound you've lost. An easy way to know you're not drinking enough: You're thirsty and/or your pee is dark (it should be pale yellow).
If you're struck by heat cramps—spasms in your calves, core, or arms—slow down, cool off, and drink a sports beverage to replenish electrolytes. (Make your own by dissolving 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon table salt in a quart of water.) More severe symptoms such as nausea, headache, and intense sweating signify heat exhaustion. Immediately seek shelter in a cool place, remove as much clothing as possible, and drink cool (not ice-cold) water, applying it to your body as well. If you or a workout buddy experiences disorientation or seizures, call 911. Those are life-threatening symptoms of heat stroke.
When Patty Scott, an Ontarian runner who logs 30 miles a week, complained to her husband about the "Hey, baby!" honks and waves she got while jogging, she didn't get the reaction she'd hoped for: "He said, 'Guys think you're hot. What's the big deal?' I said, 'The big deal is, it's offensive!'" Scott recalls.
"I've heard from many women who have stopped working out outside because of this," says Emily May, co-founder and executive director of Hollaback!, a movement dedicated to ending street harassment using mobile technology. "That's not right. We deserve equal access to the streets," she says. May suggests running with a buddy. It won't necessarily prevent harassment, she says, but it may make you feel safer. If you wish to confront the harasser, consider saying, "That's not OK," May says. "It shows him you're standing up and his words aren't having the effect on you he wants." Your instinct may be to shout back or swear at him, but beware of the potential for a bad situation to escalate. You can also simply run in a different direction. And before your next run, log onto ihollaback.org where women can report specific locations of street harassment wherever they are.
You've been itching to play golf since Halloween, but hitting the greens too hard right off the bat can cause pain and inflammation inside the elbow. Called Golfer's Elbow, this form of tendonitis can be exacerbated by hitting fat shots, where your club strikes the ground first, causing an intense jolt to travel up your forearm to the elbow. (The elbow is actually the most commonly injured body part among female amateur golfers.) Symptoms include pain and tenderness, stiffness, weakness, or numbness in the hands and fist—specifically the ring and little fingers. While swinging your 5-iron will clearly aggravate symptoms, so will shaking hands, turning a doorknob, or picking up something with your palm down.
To avoid, stretch before every round: Grab your club behind your back and twist from side to side, and practice your swing in slow motion, going through the full range of motions. Ask a golf pro to check you for proper swing mechanics. If pain strikes, treat it with rest, ice, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines, or ask a physical therapist about cortisone injections. This advice applies to tennis players and other sports lovers too. Stretch and start slow.
Allergies & Bad Air
To your nose and lungs, a beautiful warm day could be a virtual Dante's Inferno: Extreme temps can trigger asthma attacks. Grass, trees, flowers, and pollen stand poised to activate allergies. And when sunlight hits air pollutants like car emissions and gasoline fumes, it gives birth to smog—ground-level ozone that can irritate your airways, leading to wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath. "Add exercise, and you may become even more symptomatic," says Holly Benjamin, M.D., a pediatric sports medicine specialist at the University of Chicago. (According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, 80 to 90 percent of individuals with allergic asthma will develop exercise-induced asthma with vigorous exercise.)
The good news? "Asthma is very treatable," says Dr. Benjamin. If you've already been diagnosed with allergies or asthma, use your inhaler as directed. "I'd rather have people keep exercising outside and use an inhaler than stop working out," she says. If working out in nature makes you cough, feel short of breath, or feel strangely out of shape, see your internist or an allergist: You may have exercise-induced asthma and might require treatment. And before heading out, check the day's air quality; hit your gym on Code Orange days.
While running along Lake Michigan on a sweltering Chicago day, Aishia Strickland casually glanced down and received a shock: "My fingers and hands had ballooned to the size of Sherman Klump's!"
Here's what happens: In an effort to cool off during a hot workout, your body perspires. To speed up the process, blood flow is directed to the extremities. Hand and foot swelling can result from the heightened blood flow.
Dr. Benjamin says this natural reaction isn't dangerous but warns that if the symptoms persist or worsen into numbness, tingling, or loss of feeling, you should go to the doc. Remove your rings before your run if they bother you, and avoid lacing your shoes tightly. You can also exercise in the cooler morning hours, when your body won't need to release as much heat.