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Fun in the Sun, Sand, and Surf: Staying Safe at the Beach


WebMD Feature

May 30, 2000 -- From the days when Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello made waves in movies such as Beach Party and Beach Blanket Bingo, we have all idealized beach fun and games. But fun in the sun can also pose health risks if you are not careful, experts tell WebMD.

"We are all well aware of the health benefits of physical activity. Regular exercise enables us to live longer, healthier lives, and what better place to play than the beach?" says Lewis G. Maharam, MD, a sports medicine specialist in New York City and president of the New York chapter of the American College of Sports Medicine. "Traditionally, Memorial Day weekend is the time when people who haven't been active become active again. So remember that whatever sport you choose, take it slow, because doing too much too soon can result in painful tears, sprains, and strains."

Running, jogging, and even walking on the beach can be great exercise, Maharam tells WebMD. But "be careful to stretch your calves and Achilles tendons before you go, because if you aren't well stretched out and warmed up prior to your run, you may see muscle pulls in the calves or [a condition called] Achilles tendonitis," he says.

Controlled walking on the beach -- especially on firm sand --can be good for the knees because it will stretch muscles that don't normally get stretched, says Ronald P. Grelsamer, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon at the Hospital for Joint Diseases in New York City. However, "uncontrolled activity that involves jumping and twisting, such as football and Frisbee, can be dangerous if you don't watch where you step, because you can step in a hole," he says. "Be alert."

Beach volleyball is an extremely popular sport, he says. "When you play volleyball, be sure to rope out a section of the beach without any holes," Grelsamer tells WebMD.

Even if the section of the beach is relatively level and free of holes, there can still be problems. "When people are jumping in volleyball and come down hard in the sand without shoes, they can sustain knee injuries including a tear in their anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), which controls movement of your knee," Maharam says. "If you are going to play beach volleyball, there is really no way to prevent such injuries, so be careful about your landings."

No matter what sport you play, exercising in the sun can be extremely dehydrating, Maharam says. "Make sure that you are well hydrated with water or a sports drink like Gatorade, because as you sweat, you can lose a lot of salt, which speeds the dehydration process," he says.

Particularly dangerous can be drinking beer or other alcoholic beverages while playing sports in the sun, Maharam says. Alcoholic drinks are diuretics, meaning that they encourage the loss of fluid. "So water or Gatorade is a better hydration solution," he says. "You don't realize how drunk you are getting in the sun because you are drinking the beer to quench your thirst," he says.

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