Summer has arrived, and the sun shines brighter and the days are longer. Who doesn’t welcome that? The abundance of sunlight lifts our mood and we want to be our healthiest to enjoy it. Yet, each season presents its own unique health challenges. Summer means you’ll be spending more time outdoors in the sunshine and getting more vitamin D. Plus, the bright, sunny days will give your mood a lift – all good things! But, there are some pitfalls to watch out for if you’re trying to stay as healthy as possible in the summer. Here are some tips to help you brave the heat and be as healthy as possible this summer.
This Summer Watch What You Hydrate With
If you spend time outside in hot weather, hydration is a top priority. Every year people die of heat stroke because they didn’t respect the heat and stay properly hydrated. Even mild dehydration can sap your energy and motivation and give you a mild headache. Certain factors increase the risk of dehydration. If you take certain blood pressure medications, it’s vital that you drink fluid around the clock, as some of these medications increase fluid loss. Plus, when you step up your activity level or exercise outside, you lose water and electrolytes even faster and can quickly become dehydrated.
What’s your favorite rehydration beverage? It’s easy to reach for a cold beverage that’s loaded with sugar, but when you drink lots of these to stay hydrated, you take in a significant amount of sugar and calories. Do you need more sugar in your diet? Most people don’t. We tend to disregard calories in beverage form and don’t compensate by consuming fewer calories overall. Though you might be more active in the summer, all the liquid sugar can end up on your waistline.
Instead, stick to non-calorie beverages. Water is still the best hydration beverage unless you’ll be exercising for longer than 90 minutes and need to replace electrolytes, like sodium, potassium, and chloride. So, skip the sugary beverages and sip water with fruit slices, unsweetened green, white, or black tea, or iced coffee without the calorie-laden enhancements.
If you need an electrolyte replacement beverage, coconut water and cactus water are natural alternatives to sports beverages. Look for cactus or coconut water without added sugar.
This Summer Be Judicious about Sun Exposure
Exposing your skin to sunlight has positives and negatives. When the sun hits your skin, it makes a vitamin D precursor that raises your vitamin D level. Most of us could use more vitamin D, a vitamin important for healthy immune function and for bone health. But, sun exposure also damages the genetic material inside skin cells. So, too much exposure to the sun’s damaging UV rays, especially if it leads to sunburn, increases the risk of skin cancer, including the most serious form, malignant melanoma.
How can you lower your risk of melanoma and skin damage? Limit sun exposure without protection to no more than 15 or so minutes daily. Then, slap on a high-power sunscreen for protection. Strike a healthy balance when it comes to sun exposure. Don’t overdo the rays. Even better, check a vitamin D level to see where you stand. Also, check your skin at least every 4 to 6 months for changes suggestive of skin cancer.
This Summer Synchronize Your Body’s Natural Rhythms
Take advantage of the brilliant sunlight you’re exposed to on summer mornings. Throw open the blinds and let the sunshine in as early as possible after you wake up. Studies show that exposing your eyes to sunlight early in the day can improve your mood. Plus, a study published on PLOS One links light exposure early in the morning with a lower body mass index, independent of calorie intake. This isn’t surprising since hormones that control fat-burning, appetite, and other bodily functions are influenced by 24-hour cycles that are set by your internal biological clock. The daily rhythms established by these clocks are influenced by light exposure and respond best to bright light early in the day.
Exposing your eyes to natural light upon awakening and throughout the day establishes a healthy circadian cycle that helps with weight control and benefits metabolic health. For example, early light exposure enhances insulin sensitivity for better blood sugar control. In contrast, light exposure at night, especially blue light from devices, disrupt your biological clock and causes hormonal changes that lead to weight gain and poor metabolic health.
This Summer Resist the Urge to Stay Up Late
As the days become longer, it’s easier to stay up late and skimp on sleep. But, resist the urge. You still need 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night to maximize your health and lower your risk of health issues. Studies link insufficient sleep with a host of medical problems, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and heightened mortality. So, stick to a regular sleep schedule regardless of the season and time of year.
This Summer Take a Nature Walk
Even if you exercise indoors, you can still benefit mentally and physically from moving your body in the great outdoors. One study of subjects at Stanford University found subjects who walked for a short time through a lush, natural environment felt happier and more focused relative to those who walked in an urbanized area with traffic. Other studies show that spending time in nature decreases worry and the tendency to brood. So, spending time outdoors in a green environment has mental health benefits and summer is a perfect time to do that. If you live in an area that gets particularly hot and humid during the summer, take a walk first thing in the morning or in the early evening to avoid the heat.
The Bottom Line
Summer has its benefits and challenges. Hopefully, these tips will help you stay as healthy as possible while still enjoying all that warm weather has to offer.
Los Angeles Times. “Bright light – early and often – linked to lower BMI, study finds”
PLOS One. “Timing and Intensity of Light Correlate with Body Weight in Adults” April 2, 2014.
New York Times Well. “How Walking in Nature Changes the Brain”