Staying Safe While Having Fun Outdoors
We all know that the recommendation is for kids to get 60 minutes of physical activity per day. However, with the demands of homework and the distraction of electronics, that can be really hard. Now’s a great time to focus on physical activities you can do as a family, like hiking, to get fit and stay fit. But, before you head out, there are things you need to know to keep everyone safe.
First of all, plan ahead. You want to know where you are going, what the terrain or difficulty is like, and what the weather will be. Secondly, make sure everyone has the right clothing and equipment for your activity and for the conditions that day. Make a check list of everything you will need, including helmets or hats, extra food and water, and extra sunscreen. Finally, prepare in advance for nutrition and hydration.
On the day of your activity, eat a healthy breakfast and start drinking water early. Apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes before going out and be sure to have your hat and sunglasses. You will want light clothing to keep you cool, but if you may come into contact with poison oak, you will want to wear long pants. Be sure to have sturdy shoes and don’t forget to use your checklist to make sure you have all of the safety equipment needed for your activity. Pack extra water because you want to be drinking during your activity, as well as after. While exercising, drink about ½-1 cup every 20 minutes. You can combine sports drinks with your water but be careful about the sugar content of most of these drinks. Make sure to give your kids a drink at the same time. They might not be as good at recognizing when they need to drink. Remember, if you feel thirsty, you are already getting dehydrated. Finally, don’t forget to keep drinking after your activity is over.
It is important for you to know the signs of becoming overheated and heat related illness. Besides feeling hot, you might develop a heat rash (little red, itchy bumps), dizziness, or muscle cramps. If you or anyone you are with is feeling this way, sit in the shade and drink water. You want to treat heat illness early to avoid heat exhaustion and heat stroke. If the affected person starts to sweat profusely, vomits, develops a headache, or faints, call 911. Be sure to know exactly where you are to be able to give directions.
Besides heat, sun and dehydration, there are other hazards that families need to be aware of when out in nature getting exercise and having fun. Some of these include falling, animal encounters and plant exposure. Also, if your activity includes being in or around water, make sure to know you and your children’s ability. Don’t forget life jackets if you will be boating and keep young children no further than arm’s length while swimming. Parents should not drink alcohol while operating a boat. There were 74 cases of drowning and nonfatal submersions last year. And don’t forget, the majority of drowning cases occur in backyard swimming pools.
To prevent falls, make sure to wear appropriate shoes, that your ability matches the difficulty of the hike, and that you are constantly watching every step. Encourage kids to learn how to be careful about their foot placement, especially on rocks, and make sure they don’t run ahead. Walking sticks or poles can be helpful. If anyone feels tired, stop and rest, refuel and rehydrate. Tired hikers are at greater risk of falls. Rest time is also a good time to gently stretch out your muscles. If it is rainy or wet, the trail might be slippery, so pay attention to weather reports and plan plenty of time to complete your hike before sundown. If you will be out in the evening, be sure to pack a flashlight or headlamp.
In our climate, there are several animal encounters that might occur. Look out for snakes, swarms of bees, mountain lions, bobcats and coyotes.
Snakes like to venture out onto trails or onto rocks to sun themselves. Keep an eye ahead of you on the trail and watch around you as well. Be careful on rocks and logs as snakes may hide out in the crevices. Step on, not over. Stay out of tall grass and be careful swimming in lakes. If you come across a nonpoisonous snake, gently tickle the belly with a stick and it will slither away. Don’t listen to your ipod while hiking because what you really want to listen out for is rattles. Yes, rattlesnakes live in the area.
They will only get aggressive if they feel threatened or are provoked, so if you see a rattlesnake, don’t approach it. Give it plenty of space while you go around or slowly back away. Most bites occur on the feet and ankle, usually if the snake is accidentally stepped on, so once again wear sturdy hiking boots, not sandals, and watch where you are hiking. Always hike with a friend and carry a cell phone in case medical treatment is needed for a bite. There were 3 cases of venomous snake bites last year.
Swarms of bees can also be troublesome on a hike. If you here a swarm approaching crouch down low and remain still, they will pass. If you or a family member has a bee sting allergy, carry an Epipen with you. For people without bee sting allergy, multiple stings can still present a danger due to toxins released, so carry a phone and call for help if someone in your group sustains many stings. There were a total of 344 cases of insect stings seen in the ER last year. Effects ranged from a local inflammatory reaction to anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that can cause airway closure and death.
Animals like mountain lions, bobcats and coyotes tend to be more active at night. However, they may be present if you are hiking in their habitat. Hiking in groups and making noise helps keep them away but if you have small kids or animals with you, they may be interested in a snack so keep them close. If confronted, stay calm and back away. If you turn and run, it may trigger a pursuit and you will be chased. Making very loud banging noises and throwing sticks and stones may chase them away. In general, never hike alone, be alert, make noise, stay on your trail and keep kids and pets close.
Speaking of pets, don’t forget about dogs being a potential danger. Teach your kids to ask before approaching any strange dog. If a dog is off of the leash and seems angry or ready for attack, stand still and look down. Again, don’t run because the dog will most likely chase you. If an owner says a dog is approachable, have your kids pet from a standing position. Don’t let them get down because the most common places for kids to get bit are the face and neck. In an 11-month period, Rady Children’s saw 221 injuries from dog bites. Finally, if you have your own dog, watch where he/she goes because the leash or dog could be a trip hazard and the dog may stick its nose in holes and crevices where snakes are hanging out.
Sometimes, the danger is the plants. For the purpose of this talk we will focus on plants that present a problem if it touches your skin. There are many others that are poisonous if eaten so rule of thumb, don’t eat anything along the trail! The most common plant you will come into contact with is poison oak. It is a relative of the east coast plant poison ivy. It is most common in spring, summer and fall and during these times they will usually have clumps of 3 leaves on a stalk or vine. Leaves of 3 let it be!
Sometimes the vine will wrap around or grow through a shrub so be on the lookout. Sometimes the leaves will be red but not always. The reason poison oak is dangerous is because the oil on the stalks and leaves can cause an allergic reaction. You can get a reaction from oil that has rubbed off of clothes or a pet, not just the plant, so keep pets on the trail. The best defense is long sleeves and long pants. Carefully take everything off when you get home and wash in hot water. If you think you touched poison oak, immediately wash that area.
Overall, the most important thing is to have fun. Being active as a family is a great way to bond, get exercise and enjoy your beautiful surroundings. Teach your children that nature and the environment support our healthy lifestyle, so we need to support nature. Always stay on trails, follow posted signs, and don’t litter! Have fun!