Monday, July 10, 2006

Healthy Habits

As Deborah and I were smearing sunscreen all over each other's back on Saturday before doing laps in her pool, I remarked that putting on sunscreen before swimming had become as habitual as putting on my bike helmet before cycling.

I realized that there are several things like this that I now do for health or safety reasons that were never part of my routine when I was growing up in a small town in northern Florida.

If I had worn sunscreen as a child, I would probably not be discovering new melanomas today. Instead I was donning cocoa butter and frying in the hot Florida sun on the world's most beautiful beaches. Who ever heard of sunscreen back then? And weren't you supposed to at least try to get a tan in the summer? My skin turned red and blistered and complained, but I just kept lathering on the cocoa butter. Today it is SPF 45 or the highest number I can find, but I know the damage was done before we knew what SPF meant.

When I was 9 I fell off my bike and got a nasty concussion. I remember distinctly opening my eyes to find Lois White, my neighborhood friend, who walked me and my bike home. I spit up blood that night, but my parents in their wait-and-see attitude towards all health conditions never took me to the doctor. I had headaches for months, but eventually they went away. That was the days before bicycle helmets existed. Today I could not manage to start pedaling without my helmet securely fastened. I have fallen a few times since I was 9 and never hit my head, but my helmet is my insurance against another concussion or perhaps worse.

Cars have changed a lot since I was a child. We had seatbelts installed in our little 1962 Oldsmobile F-85. That was our first car with seatbelts. Today I couldn't push the gas pedal without great guilt if my seatbelt was not fastened. I always had a running controversy with my in-laws who complained about putting on their seatbelts, refusing to move the car until they did. The crash statistics are just too convincing to ignore this one thing that everyone can do as a precaution.

As I drove away from home to make my way to Washington, DC, I was given lots of advice by people who had never been out of the state of Florida and who imagined this to be the den of iniquity. But I did take one piece of advice to heart: "Always lock your car doors." When I was growing up, we never locked our cars; we didn't even lock our house. It was actually a pretty slow and very safe town back then. But the city is different, as I now know. My car is always locked these days when I'm not in it and even some times when I am.

Do these things make us safer or just crazier as we try to remember to sunscreen, helmet, buckle, and lock? It's hard to say. But it is with certainty that today's world is different than the world of the 1950's.

I'm sure there are more examples of these Pavlovian responses to everyday life. Can you think of some?


Blogger Kristin said...

The thought of smearing baby oil on myself before sitting in the sun makes me shudder, but I know I did it. I've long since outgrown the need to sunbathe. I'm okay with my pasty legs. I don't know when that happened.

I actually don't know when any of my healthy habits developed. Walking everywhere. The way I eat. Thinking about my footwear. And water bottles. And medicine and doctor's appointments and mental health days. When did it become second nature?

10:45 AM  
Blogger Old Lady said...

Children playing all over the neighborhood without adult supervision. Going blocks away into the woods or playgrounds, the store. Such freedom!

12:49 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

While you are slathering on sunscreen, you might want to consider the type of sunscreen you are putting on. I have some ideas about sunscreen myself. You can read them here.

Personally, I think that frying out in the sun is a silly thing and I have never done it. I tend not to wear sunscreen unless I really expect to have a lot of exposure and, even then, it does not always help.

I have been burned a few times, the last time was in January 1998 while in Cuba (and yes, I was wearing sunscreen - but I guess the water washed it off). The time before that was in Peru (1996), we went to see the Colca Canyon (deepest canyon in the world). We were about 5000m up, it was 09:00 in the morning and we were outside for about 45 minutes. I burned my nose pretty badly.

Is the world a different place from what we knew when we were growing up? I don't think so. I think that when we recall the "good old days" we recall it through the distorted vision of childhood memories. Growing up we were sheltered and felt safe and secure (most children I hope) from the ugliness of the world outside. I have blogged on that too

Many times, we just don't realize how dangerous something is - like lawn darts (which are now illegal in Canada because of several kids being impaled or killed by falling darts). It seems harmless enough, but …

4:19 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Richard -- My paranoia about sunscreen stems from the fact that I have had 4 melanomas and multiple basal cells removed. I look at sunscreen as a necessity given those stats. I don't put it on every day, but use it only when I know my skin will be exposed to the sun for any prolonged length of time. I also read the ingredients to make sure I am using a product that screens for those most dangerous rays of the sun. I wish I could agree that the world is the same as when I was growing up, but sadly I know that it is not. Some dangers are magnified by moving from a small town to a large urban area. I do believe the shrinkage of the ozone layers has made the sun more dangerous. Concussions are much the same as they ever were -- highly undesirable for good brain function!

4:53 PM  
Blogger Mother of Invention said...

You're right about the sun! I did the baby oil thing as did my mom! We were actually complimented for having tans! Sadly, I am conditioned to think dark skin looks better, so I do self-tanning.

We went everywhere as kids! No worries about safety...we were never really by ourselves much, in groups riding bikes or playing street games until the street lights came on! Never locked cars or houses. Sure do now, even in my small town. I do think there's a lot more crazies due to a lot more stress etc. we probably didn't have in the 50's.

On Richard's side though, there are some unsafe things we didn't know....we were allowed to have small firecrackers and roamed the streets letting them off. There were never any warnings when creeks and rivers flooded and we played there all the time. We thought we were safe. And thinking back to old times is for me, always with rose-coloured glasses.

6:37 PM  

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