Summer is such an amazing time of year, especially here in Maine where the temperatures outside are rarely too hot to get out and enjoy the sunshine. Our spring this year was particularly rainy and cool, so as summer hits full force, all around me I see friends, family and clients doing everything they can to enjoy the too-short season.
Summer is a fantastic season for shedding old habits that don’t serve you well and building some new, healthy habits in their place. Schedules are more flexible, a plethora of outdoor activities make finding ways to move easier, and the overall pace of life is less stressed.
But Summer can also mean barbecues and lawn parties, evening cocktail cruises around the bay, longer days and later nights, and falling out of regular exercise routines. It’s okay to have some summer fun, especially if you have strong habits in place to keep summer from becoming a free for all.
The healthy choices you make for yourself every day will keep you feeling good enough to enjoy all the summer activities you love – and carry you through the other seasons too. Try these nine tips to have a healthy summer – and beyond!
9 Healthy Habits to Cultivate this Summer
1. Don’t Let Sleep Fall By the Wayside
Summer is full of opportunities to get together with friends, enjoy outdoor concerts in the evening, and stay up way too late. I know that it’s tempting to say yes to every invitation since summer can seem so short, but when doing so means skimping on sleep, it’s simply not worth it.
Sleep is so important to your health and well being. Lack of sleep can contribute to hormonal imbalances that can leave you with uncomfortable symptoms that may ruin your summer entirely!
I recommend building a good sleep routine for yourself, making sure you get at least seven hours of sleep per night. Stick to this routine in the summer as often as you can – even if it means saying “no thank you” to some invitations. A late night every now and then is fine – but save it for those occasions that you really don’t want to miss – a fireworks display, a moonlight kayak or a concert by your favorite band.
For the rest of those summer evening events, try to find a compromise. If you’ve been invited to a party, arrive when it begins so you can leave early enough to get the sleep you need. Or suggest an earlier start time when friends invite you out.
It can be difficult to make the choice to miss an event that sounds fun, but it’s better than feeling like you can’t get out of bed in the morning. If you don’t pay attention to your sleep habits, you might find yourself missing everything!
2. Find Exercise You Love – Outdoors!
Keeping your body moving is important all year round, but summertime offers so many great options to get exercise without even realizing it! The number of options available – rock climbing, hiking, biking, running, walking, kayaking, swimming, and canoeing, just to name a few – make it easy to find something you love doing.
When you are participating in an activity you love, you won’t be tempted to quit. And if your exercise is happening outdoors, you’ll reap all the benefits of the fresh air and sunshine as well.
Almost any type of exercise can be moved outside, and more and more fitness groups are joining the outdoor movement when the weather turns warm. Try a yoga class overlooking the ocean, dance to the bands playing in the park, explore a new “boot camp” class that’s held outside, or gather some good friends and take a long walk.
Even if you don’t love formal exercise, just being outside with friends offers built-in opportunities for movement. Headed to an amusement park? You’ll have walked miles by the end of the day! All movement is important to your health.
If you’re interested in more structured exercise, remember that short bursts can be just as (if not more) effective for improving your health as longer sessions. Twenty minutes of high-intensity interval training can be much easier to fit into a busy schedule than an hour of cardio – and may help you meet your health goals more quickly!
Here’s a final hint to help you build exercise into every day: get it done early! It’s all too easy to let exercise fall by the wayside when a day suddenly fills up with work or last minute social invitations. When you begin your day with exercise you can stop thinking about it – and enjoy the boost of energy it will bring.
Another bonus benefit to exercising outside early is that you can do it without sunscreen (for about 20 minutes), allowing your skin to soak up valuable Vitamin D. But don’t go too long without sunscreen protection – a sunburn is never a healthy thing!
3. Make Social Connections
There is a wealth of research available that demonstrates the importance of social relationships to both physical and mental health. Research has also shown that there’s a link between social connection and risk of mortality. One of the key common characteristics found in Blue Zones – those areas in the world where populations live the longest – is connection.
Though there is plenty of recent research on this topic, this isn’t new information. A 1988 review of research showed that social isolation carried the same weight as a risk factor for illness and early death as did high blood pressure, obesity, smoking, and lack of exercise.
Summer is the perfect time to find a new group to connect with. Meet-up groups can be a perfect place to find others who share your interests. The more relaxed schedule of summer can also make it a great time to reconnect with friends you haven’t seen in a while.
One important thing to remember about connection is that it works better when you are truly present with the group. All too often, I see groups of people who are together, but not really connecting, because of their attachment to electronic devices. My advice is to leave the electronics behind — you don’t have to post a selfie to enjoy the experiences you are having!
4. Stay Hydrated
Summertime is a great time to be more aware of your liquid intake. The warm temperatures often mean you feel thirst more often than in cooler temperatures, reminding you it’s time to take a drink. Being outside and more active will increase the amount of liquid you require, so it’s a good idea to always have a water bottle handy.
Your body needs to be well hydrated to survive since every cell, tissue and organ within requires water to perform their vital functions. Symptoms of dehydration include sleeplessness, fatigue, headaches, lightheadedness, dizziness, dry mouth, confusion, less urine output, and dark yellow urine. Any time you notice these symptoms, you should increase fluid intake immediately.
There are varying ideas about how much water you need to consume each day. In my new weight loss program I recommend that people drink half of their body weight in hydrating liquids (water, herbal teas) per day. Even if weight loss isn’t your goal, I think that’s a good guideline to be sure your body has the water it needs to flush out toxins and keep you feeling great.
For staying hydrated, it’s best to avoid caffeinated drinks and drinks filled with added sugar and artificial ingredients. Water or herbal iced teas are the best options for staying hydrated in the summer heat. If you are exercising or sweating a lot, you’ll also need to stay aware of replacing lost electrolytes – but don’t turn to traditional sports drinks to do so. Instead, look for a natural water supplement and add it to your filtered water. There are brands (my go-to is Ultima Replenisher) that have electrolyte powders with no artificial colors, flavors or sweeteners. They come in single serve packs, making them a convenient on-the-go option.
If you get tired of plain water, vary the routine by infusing your water with fresh fruit, cucumbers, or fresh herbs, like mint or basil. The options are endless when you get a little creative!
5. Update Personal Care Products
Summer brings the need for a range of products that you apply directly to your skin – sunscreen, insect repellants, moisturizers, and more. Have you ever stopped to think about what, exactly, you are putting on your body? If not, you should! Remember, what you put on your skin is absorbed into your body – and if there are toxic chemicals included, they end up swimming in your bloodstream!
I am certainly not suggesting you avoid these products altogether. Sunscreen and insect repellents are vital protective measures that are necessary when you’re spending a lot of time outdoors (which I hope you are in the summer). But the popular commercial brands are rarely the best option.
The environmental working group has made researching safe alternatives easy with their guides to safe sunscreen and bug repellents. These are products that effective products without the toxic chemicals.
While you’re at it, take a look at the cosmetics you use on a regular basis. Read the ingredients label to learn what’s really in these products. The EWG’s safe cosmetics wallet guide is a great way to remember what’s best to avoid when you’re standing in the cosmetics aisle making your selections.
6. Enjoy Fresh, Seasonal Fruits and Vegetables
One of my favorite things about summer is the abundantly available fresh produce. I love summer fruit – berries, peaches, plums, and melon. I love heading to a farmer’s market to see what locally grown, organic vegetables are available. And I love trying new fruits and vegetables in light summer recipes.
I believe that buying organic produce whenever possible is best because you know that you can trust they haven’t been treated with toxic pesticides. But I also know that organic can be expensive. At the very least, use the EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides to know the “dirty dozen” that are most important to purchase organic (and the “clean thirteen” that mean conventionally grown may be okay).
When you add a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables to your plate, you’ll feel more satisfied, without the need for carb-heavy side dishes. And the more relaxed pace of summer is a perfect time to experiment with new recipes.
The more color on your plate, the more nutrients you are getting. I always tell my patients to “eat the rainbow” for the best variety of nutrients and minerals.
If desserts are your weakness, fresh fruit is the key! Instead of a slice of cake, try a delicious fruit crisp, or a bowl of fresh raspberries mixed with mint leaves instead. You’ll satisfy your sweet tooth AND stay healthy!
The other great thing that summer does for your diet is to reduce eating due to stress and/or boredom. The easier pace of summer schedules mean stress levels aren’t as high, and you have more time to relax and really enjoy the food on your plate. Added physical activity also helps you stay on a healthy eating plan (with plenty of fruits and vegetables) — eating because you’re bored diminishes significantly when you’re always on the go!
7. Practice Moderation
One of the most important health habits you can build in your life is the art of doing things in moderation. Summer can be a time of excess, especially where alcohol is concerned. So many social occasions include specialty cocktails on offer. Restaurants are even building promotions around special drinks this time of year.
Alcohol is really important to drink in moderation, if you drink at all. There’s a lot of sugar in alcohol, which can send your hormone levels spiraling. If you have any trouble with imbalanced hormones (and so many of the women I know do, whether they realize it or not) it’s really best to avoid alcohol altogether.
If you do decide to indulge in alcoholic beverages, be aware that they can dehydrate you quickly. A great strategy for staying hydrated – and avoiding overindulging – is to alternate an alcoholic beverage with water.
If it’s the fun summer flavors that appeal to you, you can make your own “mocktails” with flavored seltzer, fresh fruit, a splash of juice, and some fresh herbs.
8. Get Your Hands (and Feet) Dirty
Did you know that there’s real value in physically connecting with the earth? Getting your hands deep into the garden soil, or taking off your shoes and walking barefoot through the grass has actually been shown to have real health benefits.
Research on the concept of “earthing” (the practice of walking barefoot on any natural surface, like grass, sand or soil) has shown that there are true health benefits that come from the connection between our bodies and the earth’s electrons.
A 2011 review of studies in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health examined studies around earthing, and found that the practice improved glucose regulation, decreased heart rate variability, enhanced immunity, and reduced stress. That’s a lot of good reasons to give it a try!
The benefits of gardening have also been studied a great deal. In a March 2017 meta analysis of studies, researchers found that a range of health outcomes were reported, including decreased depression and anxiety, reduction of BMI, and increased quality of life, sense of community and life satisfaction. A significant positive effect was shown for all and for sets of subgroup studies.
Just being outside can reduce stress, boost Vitamin D and make you feel better – but if you want to boost your health even more, don’t be afraid to take your shoes off once in a while!
9. Relax and Enjoy the Season
I’ve written a lot about the problems that arise with chronic stress. We all deal with stress sometimes, but when you have a constant barrage of stressors in your life, serious health issues can arise, including depression, hormonal imbalances, insomnia, cognitive difficulties, and accelerated aging.
Summer is the perfect time to step back and address the stress in your life. If you haven’t made taking a vacation a priority in your life, do it now! Head to the woods for some camping or enjoy a beach vacation. Anywhere that allows for some down time and personal reflection is a perfect choice.
Summer might also be a great time to examine your routines, as many of the things that keep us running the rest of the year – school volunteering, driving children to endless practices and activities, board meetings or extra job responsibilities – ease up this time of year. Notice how it feels to have more time on your hands, then think about what you can let go to keep this feeling year round!
Build Healthy Habits in the Summertime as a Springboard to Good Health All Year Round!
None of these suggestions apply exclusively to summer — you can find ways to keep them going all year long. Building healthy habits now, when your days feel a little slower and more relaxed, means you’ll be in a great rhythm when the seasons change. And you’ll feel so good, you won’t even want to return to those old habits. Happy Summer!
Reviewed by Dr. Mark Menolascino, MD