Why Athletes Should Adopt Sun Protection

England Athletics’ Spencer Duval offers advice on how to protect your skin this summer

With athletes spending hours in the sun during training and competition, do you think they would be used to protecting their skin?

It turns out that sun protection – in all formats – is often not seen by athletes as a necessity, in fact it may be unpopular or simply overlooked. Protective clothing can sometimes be restrictive, inhibiting movement, hats can fly off, sunglasses can come off, and sunscreen can be greasy, and when combined with sweat can cause a sensation. tingling in the eyes. So it’s no surprise that many professional athletes neglect to protect their skin during training and competition, but at what cost?

Forgoing sunscreen, as we know, is just too risky. Prolonged exposure to the sun will cause early skin aging, wrinkles, age spots and solar keratosis, which can look unsightly. Accumulated exposure can cause many types of non-melanoma skin cancer (NMSC), the most common cancer in the UK. And at worst, melanoma, which can spread to other parts of the body.

To create awareness and solutions to these issues, the Melanoma Fund has created Sunguarding Sport, a free resource with guidelines, sport-specific advice and a toolkit of materials designed specifically for everyone in sport and recreation. outdoors.

Spencer Duval, Olympian and Commonwealth Games endurance runner and current National Endurance Leader for England Athletics, answers some questions about running in the UK. He is also a Sunguard Ambassador for the campaign and is keen to help raise awareness of this issue, inspire more athletes to review their skin health and reduce skin cancer rates.

We talk to Spencer to find solutions to the most common problems, helping to eliminate the excuses many athletes use to avoid protecting themselves.

Why did you agree to become a Sunguard Ambassador?

My role at England Athletics is not just about creating a safe environment for the teams I work with, but also about identifying risks to make sure everyone is educated and informed. Sunscreen has been glossed over in sport for far too long, and with melanoma rates up 140% since the 1990s, it requires intervention and more education.

I am delighted to bring my knowledge and experience to this new role, creating awareness as a campaign spokesperson, to help inspire athletes and all sportspeople to take a fresh look at their own habits. If you take care of your health, which athletes should always do, don’t forget the health of your skin!

In your role as national endurance leader, have you always promoted sun protection to your teams?

Endurance runners often spend a lot of time outdoors when training and competing. There are warm weather camps and altitude trips that are part of athlete preparation. Being in the sun is a necessity for the endurance runner.

At England Athletics, we always try to educate athletes not only about training and racing opportunities, but also about their overall health and wellbeing. We try to highlight any issues or concerns that may impact performance and one of the most obvious is overexposure to the sun.

Athletes are warned to try to stay out of the midday sun and always cover up as much as possible, but sometimes this is not possible due to race and training schedules. This is especially important with younger runners as reinforcement is often needed. Sun protection is as important as hydration and recovery and should be taken seriously.

As a professional athlete, what challenges have you encountered when it comes to sun protection?

I trained in hot, humid and often high UV (ultraviolet radiation) conditions to acclimate to competition. I often didn’t control the times and locations of events and practices, which were usually shadowless. Garments often had minimal protection, but have improved over the years through innovation. As athletes, we are concerned with performance, and remembering to protect the skin seemed to be the bottom line, which of course isn’t. Sunscreen should be considered one of the essential training aids and used regularly.

What solutions do you have for these challenges?

As a solution I would say:

» If you are traveling overseas, remember to arrive prepared for the sun, as sunscreen and other forms of protection may not be available where you are or may be very expensive.

» Plan ahead and be prepared.

» Look to wear a properly ventilated race kit but with UV protection when possible. Make sure you can perform in this kit.

» Choose your practice times carefully.

» Protect yourself from the sun before running, then focus on your performance!

What are the other risk factors in athletics?

In addition to unprotected sun exposure, young people increasingly tend to use tanning beds. Athletes often feel pressured to conform to aesthetic preconceptions, especially in today’s social media environment where image matters. Many hold their events with minimal clothing, so it’s important for them to feel confident, and a tan can be very flattering.

If you still want to tan your skin, go for a professional spray tan or buy a bottle – which is cheaper, and I’m told it does a great job!

What tips do you have for athletes on creating better sunscreen habits?

It is up to everyone to take responsibility for their performance, well-being and health, and that includes the health of their skin. We realize that all skin types and colors are vulnerable to skin cancer, but some are more susceptible than others, so get to know your skin and plan ahead!

I recommend all athletes to visit the Sunguarding Sport website and just get the facts. There are some very helpful guidelines and sport-specific tips that you can start heeding. Building habits is never easy, but by simply being mindful, you can start making small changes. Skin cancer is like any other cancer diagnosis. It’s your health, so take care of it.

How can athletes become role models for young athletes?

In today’s society, we can all be influencers. Professional athletes can play a positive role in inspiring young people through both their performance and their healthy habits. UV exposure during childhood and adolescence plays an important role in the development of skin cancer, with a single sunburn doubling the risk of melanoma later in life.

Many health-related behaviors form and become established during youth and are formed more easily, so why not create habits that inspire young people to copy them?

What are your top five tips for staying protected from the sun?

You will find plenty of tips on the Sunguarding Sport website, however these are some personal tips that have served me well!

» Find a non-oily sunscreen that you like to wear and wear it! (Sunscreen does not work in kit bags).

» Protect your skin before starting the activity and remember to renew it regularly.

» Compare the condition of the skin on your buttocks to that on your arms. This is a red flag to reveal sun damage. Remember, it’s never too late to start protecting yourself!

» Train outside peak UV hours (11 a.m. to 3 p.m.) if possible and seek shade for breaks.

» Remember to hydrate yourself regularly with water, this will avoid overheating in summer.

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