True or false? 10 summer myths, fact-checked
I never swim straight after eating, and I close the bedroom window as soon as the light is switched on. With good reason? I put this and some other supposed summer wisdom to the test.
There are rules that your parents drummed into you in childhood and never leave you. Rules that you’ve followed for decades and now preach to your own offspring, without ever questioning them.
Well, that’s exactly what I’m doing now: questioning and challenging them. Because is it really that dangerous to jump into the pool just after lunch? Why have I never developed a bladder infection from my wet swimming trunks in all these years, despite multiple warnings? And do mosquitoes actually buzz into my bedroom as soon as I turn the light on? Here’s the truth about 10 well-known summer myths.
1. «Never jump into water before getting wet first.»
This is actually advisable. When someone who’s too hot jumps into cold water, the temperature difference can send their body into shock. Generally speaking, the body is good at coping with this. «But, unfortunately, there are also cases where it leads or has led to emergency situations in the water,» says Reto Abächerli from the Swiss Lifesaving Society (SLRG). Causes include muscle cramps and circulatory problems. «Veins suddenly narrow, preventing blood from circulating properly,» explains Reto. In the worst case scenario, this can lead to cold water shock, unconsciousness or even a heart attack. This means: always get wet before swimming. «Even if there’s no shower, get into the water slowly, immersing each arm in turn and wetting your face and upper body with the cool water before completely submerging yourself.»
2. «Don’t swim on a full stomach.»
There’s some truth to this, too. After eating, the body needs more energy to digest, so you often feel tired and sluggish. «Due to the reduced blood flow to the brain, exercising shortly after a meal can lead to dizziness and nausea,» says Reto. «In the worst case, you could faint in the water and drown silently.» As above, most of the time, nothing will happen, but now and then it does. Conversely, you shouldn’t swim on an empty stomach either, because experiencing hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar) in the water can also be dangerous.
3. «Your wet swimwear will give you a bladder infection.»
Not quite. «It’s not the moisture that’s the problem; it’s the cold,» explains Dr Dieter Stöckli from mediX praxis friesenberg in Zurich. According to the doctor, wet swimming trunks cool the abdomen, which can cause blood vessels to constrict and circulation to be weakened. «This also affects the immune cells in the blood. Bacteria can then get to the bladder more easily via the urethra and can trigger cystitis.» So, it is actually advisable to change after swimming. However, bladder infections are much more common in women and girls because they have shorter urethras.
4. «When it’s unbearably hot, drink something cool.»
Ideally not. Even if you feel like a refreshing drink, it’s actually counterproductive. It stimulates the body to regulate its temperature, which requires energy. And energy generates heat – exactly what you don’t need when you’re too hot. «It’s best to drink something temperate,» advises Dr Stöckli. Putting things into perspective, however, he adds: «But the body can handle the occasional cold drink.» Either way, be sure to drink enough when it’s hot. This doesn’t include alcoholic beverages (see point 5).
5 «You get drunk faster when it’s hot.»
This is true. «When we sweat, our cells dehydrate and we have less water in our bodies», says Dr Stöckli. As a result, the alcohol in the body is more concentrated, so intoxication sets in faster and more intensely. Anyone who then jumps into cold water while drunk not only has impaired coordination skills, they also risk circulatory problems (see point 1).
6. «You’ll be much hotter in black clothing than in lighter colours.»
This is true. Light colours such as white reflect sunlight, while black absorbs it. So why do the Bedouins wear black garments in the desert? This has less to do with the colour of the clothes and much more to do with their looseness, reports «Spektrum der Wissenschaft» (article in German), referring to the findings of a research team from Tel Aviv. The robes allow air to flow through, which carries heat away and cools the skin. In summary, we sweat more in the summer heat in tight-fitting, black clothing than in lighter-coloured garments. However, you’ll be coolest when your clothing is loose and allows air to pass through. Then the colour makes no difference.
7 «You get sunburnt faster in and on water.»
Yes, depending on the position of the sun, water reflects between 5 and 50 per cent of the UV light that is harmful to skin, according to Bettina Schlagenhauff, a specialist in skin diseases and board member of the Swiss Society of Dermatology and Venereology (SGDV). «This means that you get more of it and risk sunburn.» Light-coloured sand and snow reflect even more.
8. «The higher the SPF of your sunscreen, the longer you can stay in the sun.»
Think again. However, it is true that the higher the sun protection factor, the longer it will take for you to get sunburn. The SPF number indicates the factor by which the product extends your self-protection time – the time until your unprotected skin starts to redden. «For example, you can say that a product with a protection factor of 50 is about twice as strong as a factor 25 product,» says skin specialist Bettina Schlagenhauff. But the problem is that, even without sunburn, your skin is still damaged by UV rays. «Sunscreen is not designed to allow you to lie out in the sun for longer.»
9. «Your tan will look better and last longer in the shade.»
This is quite possible and is related to melanin. «Direct sunlight damages skin more, quickly leading to peeling,» explains dermatologist Bettina Schlagenhauff. This means that the melanin produced in the skin – which causes a tan – is shed a little faster. The expert goes on to say, however, that the former beauty ideal of sun-tanned skin should no longer hold weight. Today we know that regular exposure to the sun and sun beds is associated with a varying risk of developing skin cancer and premature skin aging, depending on skin type. «A tan is always a sign of some skin damage.» Dermatologists advise always wearing sunscreen or covering up with clothing, even in the shade, especially between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. when UV exposure is at its highest.
10. «Bedroom lights attract mosquitoes.»
This is an old wives’ tale, at least as far as mosquitoes are concerned. The light in your room will attract a lot of insects, but not mosquitoes that will bite you. «In our European climes, you’re much more likely to find midges, crane flies and gnats,» explains entomologist Stefan Ungricht. And none of these would suck blood: «they can’t bite at all, but the general public often confuses them with mosquitoes.» Mosquito researcher Willem Takken from Wageningen University in the Netherlands has also found that mosquitoes actually tend to get distressed if they stray into a brightly lit room and bite even less when the light is on. As soon as the light is switched off, the nasty buzzing starts and the critters fly to whoever smells the best.
So far I haven’t done anything that wrong; there’s actually some truth in most summer sayings. However, I have a hard time coming to terms with one thing: I simply can’t imagine not running straight to the window to close it when I have the bedroom light on in summer. I’ll still be making a run for the light switch for some time yet.Header image: Unsplash
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