News Flash: Sunscreen and Burning, Vacation-Slacking Consequences, a Tax Break For Fitness

Every week, we’re bringing you a roundup of the latest health and wellness news to hit the wire. This week, we look at how much protection sunscreen users are actually getting, what happens when you take time off from fitness, and a new bill that would make your gym membership cheaper.

Why your sunscreen isn’t preventing the burn

Even if you slap on sunscreen every day before you head outside, you may not be getting full protection from UV rays. The problem is not with the product, experts say, but rather a user error, with most people putting on a layer of sunscreen that’s just too thin to be effective.

Sunscreen makers use a certain thickness of application—2 milligrams per square centimeter—as the basis for determining their protection factor or SPF. But scientists say most people don’t apply nearly that much.

And when you don’t slather it on, the protection factor goes way down, according to researchers at King’s College London. Recent research by King’s College showed that a typical application of SPF sunscreen provided only 40 percent of the expected sun protection.

For someone wearing SPF 15, that might not be enough to prevent a burn. To better prevent sun damage, use a higher SPF than you think necessary, apply a thick layer, reapply often and don’t rely on sunscreen alone—use sun protective hats, clothing and shade, too.

The aftereffects of vacation downtime

Who doesn’t love the R & R that comes with summer vacation? But all that lounging can come with a greater cost than you think, according to this report in The New York Times.

A new study by University of Liverpool researchers published in the journal Diabetologia looked at what happened when 45 active adult men and women abruptly stopped moving as much, cutting their steps from more than 10,000 each day to less than 2,000 and sitting for more than three and a half additional hours daily.

At the end of the period, their blood sugar levels had risen, insulin sensitivity had declined, cholesterol profiles were less healthy, and the volunteers had lost a little muscle mass while gaining fat around their abdomen. Thankfully, for most of the volunteers, these consequences reversed when they became active again. But a few did not return to the same level of vigorous exercise they had engaged in before and still carried some symptoms of insulin resistance, even after two weeks of moving normally.

The costs of inactivity were even greater for overweight seniors in another study published in The Journals of Gerontology. Here, seniors who reduced their steps to less than 1,000 a day for two weeks developed similar problems with blood sugar control and changes in muscle tissue. Some had to be removed from the study because they had edged into full-fledged Type 2 diabetes. And those results were not fully reversed after two weeks of moving again.

The upshot? Inactivity, even for a short period, can wreak more havoc on your health than you think, and those costs get steeper as you age. Find a way to squeeze a little exercise in while you’re traveling.

Cutting the cost of fitness

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Personal Health Investment Today, or PHIT, Act as part of H.R.6199 in a 277-142 vote. The legislation would allow people to use their pretax flexible spending accounts and health savings accounts—typically used on medical expenses—to cover up to $1,000 per family (or $500 per single filer) on sports and fitness costs each year.

Approved costs include gym memberships, personal training programs and sports activity programs, as well as the safety equipment required for each. The legislation now moves to the Senate for consideration.

Photo credit: Leonides Ruvalca, Unsplash