When July arrives, we're solidly into summer - the month brings sun, socializing, and, sometimes, stress. Here are five simple things you can do this month for your health. Check in every month here at Doc Gurley, and, by the end of the year, you'll have a tidy checklist of simple reminders to help keep your body's engine tuned and humming.
1) POP QUIZ: Question - What environmental event kills the most people? Is it earthquakes? Tornadoes? Hurricanes? Tsunamis? The answer may come as a surprise - it's heat. The European heat deaths of 2003 were a wake-up call for countries and individuals to be vigilant about the health effects of heat waves during the summer. How bad was it in 2003? - "in the first 20 days of August, heat had killed more than 14,800 people. During the peak of the heat, fatality rates topped 2,000 in a day." In total, over 52,000 Europeans died from heat in that summer. Clinically, humans are remarkably vulnerable at the upper ranges of our temperature tolerance. Our bodies live around 98.6 degrees. When it comes to outside temperatures, we can go way way way down the Fahrenheit scale (as long as we can keep adding layers). But if the temperature of our environment shifts just a few degrees above where our bodies live, we have a very hard time of it. Highs of 100 degrees, then 105, then 110 - people start to die, even healthy young people. Physiologically, when it comes to hot days, we don't have much margin for error. So what can you do to protect yourself and your loved ones? First, be mindful of the temperature and its power to kill. Second, have a heat plan - know where to go to cool off, even during a rolling black-outs (malls, libraries, department stores, shaded community pools, etc.). Keep tabs on neighbors, distant family members, and particularly keep in mind those who are younger, older or on certain medications - they are the particularly vulnerable. Third, never underestimate the effect of heat in a closed space - it takes remarkably little time to overheat and die in a car, even with windows open. If you're at a large sporting event, be aware of the dangers of sitting in full sun, without a breeze - don't be afraid to call it quits (even if you think you'll look like a weeny). At a local 105-degree swim meet, parent and families were baking on asphalt in an enclosed, breeze-less area. A wonderful parent convinced the announcer to stop the meet and then verbally joke and bully parents into climbing in the pool (clothes and all!) before the meet would continue. What had become a tense, ill-feeling, fretful and too-hot crowd transformed into a laughing communal event where others noticed and cared for people over-heating. Lives were probably saved that day. Make a commitment to yourself to be that person who notices and steps up. Finally, have a heat-kit handy, especially in your car - get in the habit of wearing a hat, carry one of those squirt-fans, and store an empty (BPA-free!) water bottle to refill frequently. Be cool, man.
2) Summer socials - Connecting with your community is an important part of being healthy - studies show that people who have strong social networks are more likely to live longer, take concrete steps to ensure their health, and to rate their life higher on quality-of-life scales. July is National Picnic Month, and July 11 is Cheer Up The Lonely Day. Use July's fabulous weather to throw together impromptu, low-stress get togethers. Even if you're feeling a bit isolated, summer is a great time to invite those people you thought you might like to get to know better for a meet-up in the park. Take advantage of some of our local riches - free concerts, free performances, and natural treasures like beaches and parks. All it takes is a call, a blanket and a snack. Make a personal commitment to use the excuse of summer to reach out and revel in face-time.
3) The pool thing: Already the Bay Area has suffered deaths of young kids who have drowned in pools. Nothing is more precious than our children - sure, you want to stay cool, but if you're around a pool with kids, it takes constant vigilance to protect them from drownings. If you own a pool, be sure you have several layers of protection - but keep in mind that none of them replaces the type of hyper-awareness that is required with children around water. In contrast, also keep in mind that children need to learn how to be water-safe. The CDC notes: "The fatal drowning rate of African American children ages 5 to 14 is 3.2 times that of white children in the same age range. Factors such as the physical environment (e.g., access to swimming pools) and a combination of social and cultural issues (e.g., valuing swimming skills and choosing recreational water-related activities) may contribute to the racial differences in drowning rates. If minorities participate less in water-related activities than whites, their drowning rates (per exposure) may be higher than currently reported." And if your child has a choking "near-drowning," be sure to have them seen by a physician right away. Delayed deaths from near-drownings can occur. What does this mean for all of us? Keep in mind, you don't need a pool to drown, especially if you're a toddler - make sure those handy 5-gallon buckets around your home are dry/empty (turn them upside down if they're exposed to rain), and that there are adequate barriers in place for landscaped water features. Summer is a great time to help children learn water-safety - but be sure there are appropriate safe-guards (in other words, excellent life-guards) in place. Even with life-guards, think of your child, while they're in the water, as a toddler wandering in the middle of a busy street - that's the level of watchful attention they need. Watch, protect, and help them learn to be safe.
4) Brain buzz - July is Anti-Boredom Month (who knew?). For many of us frantic multi-taskers, it may seem like the days of boredom are some distant, soft-focus unreliable memory, doesn't it? But Anti-Boredom Month is a great reminder to all of us to value what's between our ears. Doing the same thing over and over doesn't actually keep your brain fit and fine. Instead, it focuses your brain on refining a skill to the exclusion of others. When it comes to brain health, it truly is a case of use-it-or-lose-it. What parts of your brain are atrophying? When was the last time you stretched yourself out of your brain comfort zone? Even if you're a student and (whew) you just finished finals, how about your other brain functions - how's your meditation-skill? Has it been neglected? Do a (har) mental inventory and see what you may enjoy exploring - improv? Sudoku? July is a great month to bust a brain-move.
5) Summer sillies - Loyal Doc Gurley readers know that every month should have room for a little deliberate silliness - it's what helps keep our Joy Habits strong. July 1 is both International Joke Day and Doc Gurley's birthday (coincidence? I think not...). July 19 is also Stick Out Your Tongue Day - a great reminder to both schedule your half-yearly tooth-cleaning, and to not take yourself too seriously (a trait which was recently identified as a key component of long-term happiness). So, on that note - "A robber broke into a medical society meeting by mistake. The old docs gave him a fight for their life and their money. The robber was very happy to escape. "It ain't so bad," the crook noted. "I've got $25." The crime boss screamed: "I warned you to stay clear of doctors -- when you broke in, you had $10,000 and a healthy appendix!"
Got a great joke for International Joke Day? Want to stick out your tongue to the world at large? Share it in the comments section, and embrace July as a month to wallow in your joy.