Regular exercise has been shown to reduce the risk of many types of cancer but does this include athletes who spend excessive amounts of time in the sun? Being an outdoor athlete can put you at higher risk for skin cancer. With countless hours being spent outside during heavy perspiration, the skin is more porous and sensitive to sun rays and its damaging effects.

Greater Oxidative Stress Leads Internal Skin Damage

According to a recent study from the National Cancer Institute those who are more physically active tend to have less risk of developing cancer.

Those with the highest levels of physical activity had lower rates of cancer of the esophagus, lung, kidney, colon, head and neck, rectum, bladder, and breast, as well as of two cancers of the blood (myeloma and myeloid leukemia). The rates of these cancers in the most active people were 7% to 38% lower than in the least active people.”

On the one hand, regular exercise can help to produce a stronger immune system, decrease inflammation and reduce your risk of chronic disease. On the other hand, extensive exercise can create the opposite effect. The amount of oxidative stress in your body is said to increase with consistent over exertion and athletes tend to experience this regularly. 

 “ Intense and exhaustive physical activity can contribute to oxidative damage. Oxidative stress occurs when the body's antioxidant defenses cannot completely repair the damage that free radicals cause to cells. This can damage their internal structures and deteriorate your skin (Healthline).”

The skin is weakened and incredibly vulnerable due to the sheer fact that athletes are required to push themselves beyond their limits. Certain sports have greater association with skin cancer risk over others. Outdoor athletes like skiers, snowboarders, golfers, marathon runners, surfers and mountain climbers are more prone to develop skin cancer because they spend most of their time in the sun. Frequent outdoor training sessions and heavy sweating causes sunscreen to become ineffective or come off entirely.

Sun Safety Precautions Outdoor Athletes

That being said, there are a couple of things you can do to protect yourself and prevent cancer.

Be Very Generous with Sunscreen: Apply a sunscreen of at least SPF 30 or greater fifteen minutes before going outdoors. Apply sunscreen on all exposed skin, including your lips and ears. Choose a sport variety or one that’s sweat or water-resistant.

Cover Up with Clothing: There are a lot of sportswear brands that provide clothing with SPF already built into it. This material absorbs UV rays and stops them from hitting your skin. It is very practical and easy way to practice sun safety. Don’t forget to invest in a pair of wrap around sunglasses to protect the area around the eyes as well.

Physical activity promotes health and well-being but as an outdoor athlete, be sure to take precaution against the harsh effects of the sun. Skin cancer is preventable as long as you are using proper protection.

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