Start now for year-round change
Gillian Flower, ND
The summer months are the perfect time to work on yourself. Establishing healthy summer habits now will help set you up for a whole year of good health.
The summer months are the perfect time to start a new health habit. Brilliant sunshine and gorgeous produce make staying active and eating healthy easier in the summertime. Establishing or refining healthy habits now will help to set you up for a whole year of good health.
Get a social life
In a society where much of our social interaction has become digitized, it is often easier to send an email, text, or instant message rather than to meet face to face. However, a sedentary lifestyle dominated by television and computer use is associated with negative effects on our mental health. If you’ve fallen into a social rut, take advantage of the summer months to reconnect with friends and family at backyard barbecues, patio lunches, and outdoor group activities.
How to reinvigorate your social calendar
Make it automatic. Plan monthly get-togethers with friends who share common interests. Start a book club, sample a new wine, visit a new restaurant, or host a games night. Have a pre-planned date to take the effort out of making plans every month.
Be spontaneous. This strategy can work well for busy friends who can’t get their calendars to match up. Call up a friend you haven’t seen in a while for a same-day rendezvous—you just may be free at the same time.
Talk by the water cooler. Although some managers frown upon idle chatter in the workplace, research shows that socially connected people are the most productive. A recent Gallup survey found that friendships at work made people more likely to be engaged with their work and to have higher performance ratings and job satisfaction. Reaching out to co-workers can provide important social opportunities.
Check in. If you find that you are withdrawing from social engagements, or otherwise isolating yourself, talk to a professional. Depression and other disorders may present with changes in social patterns, and can be addressed through counselling and other therapies.
Think seasonally, eat locally
For most of us it’s not reasonable to give up on all fruits and vegetables that come from afar, but choosing local foods when available can make a big environmental difference. Summer is the perfect time to become a locavore by eating local food in season. This choice makes a profound impact on the health of the planet while significantly enriching your dietary options.
Shipping foods across continents comes at great cost to the environment. A 2005 study of carbon emissions found that each individual could offset half a tonne of greenhouse gases each year simply by switching to locally sourced foods.
Eating locally offers benefits on a personal level as well. Homegrown foods are barely off the plant before reaching your plate, while foods from other continents risk damage and nutrient loss during their long journeys, despite continual advances in transportation technology. Seasonally rotating the diet could theoretically slow the development of sensitivities from overexposure to the same foods.
Get delivery. The Good Food Box program makes fresh and local food available in many Canadian cities. Food is delivered to pick-up locations or to a new site if demand
Grow your own. Start small with some container herbs, or take on hardy favourites such as kale, zucchini, or beans. If you don’t have planting space, find community gardens in your area. Begin with foods that you are likely to eat, and enjoy your very own harvest.
Talk it up. If you don’t see local options in your grocery stores, talk to the management about bringing them in. Creating awareness about the growing demand for local foods will help to make more of these foods available to consumers.
Experience the great outdoors
Getting outdoors may seem like the most natural thing to do in the summer, but warnings about rising smog levels and UV readings may send us scurrying back to our climate-controlled retreats. While precautions are needed (see sun safety sidebar, below), walking outside for as little as 15 minutes a day will benefit mood and energy levels.
A 2011 systematic review found that people who exercised in natural surroundings were more likely to report feeling revitalized and energetic than those performing similar activities indoors. Decreases in anger, tension, and depression were also associated with outdoor exercise.
Despite necessary warnings about sun-associated cancers and eye damage, the healing properties of sunlight should not be forgotten. Among people with depression, lack of sunlight is linked with cognitive impairment. Careful sun exposure may also benefit some autoimmune conditions such as multiple sclerosis, although supplemental vitamin D may be equally beneficial.
How to embrace outdoor living
Park the car. Choose transit or pedal power instead. Protect our air from rising smog levels, and enjoy the excuse to wait outside at a bus stop. Rather than using the car for your errands, do as much as you can on foot or on two wheels.
Leave your desk. Skipping lunch is doubly tragic in the summer months. Take a walk during your lunch break, and let the change of scenery clear your head.
Plan outdoor activities. Schedule meetings and social gatherings on a shaded patio. Take leisurely nature strolls with friends and family.
Discover. Find scenic areas in your neighbourhood —a waterside boardwalk, a country lane, a tree-lined boulevard, or a meandering path through the woods.
Start a new fitness activity
The benefits of regular exercise are innumerable, yet it’s the first thing to drop off our to-do list when life gets busy. Exercise reduces stress; is a natural mood booster; improves cognitive functioning; and can decrease the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
Choosing to begin a new fitness regimen in the summer months puts a plethora of activities at your disposal. Bright and balmy summer evenings make outdoor exercise so much more appealing than it may be under the threat of snowstorms and wind chill.
Current exercise guidelines for Canadian adults specify 150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise, in addition to activities that strengthen muscle and bone. Breaking up your activities into increments of just 10 minutes can help you meet the recommendations.
How to get active
Enjoy yourself. Choose activities that you enjoy doing to ensure that you stick with them. Join a running, walking, or hiking group to help keep motivated. Enrol in a fun sports league, and you won’t even feel that you’re exercising.
Vary your activity. Diversify your exercise choices and get involved in different activities. Variety will keep you interested while working a range of muscle groups.
Integrate. Incorporate exercise into your entire day. Take the stairs; and walk, bike, or in-line skate to work. Take a CAN-BIKE safety course (canbike.net, click on Public Site) if your cycling confidence needs a boost or if you’ve never ridden a bike before.
Set a goal. Challenge yourself to explore one new activity this year. Try one of an endless variety of summer activities such as dragon boat racing or kayaking, dancing or outdoor tai chi, hiking or swimming, ball hockey or beach volleyball.
Get out in the sun this summer, but take these precautions to protect yourself from exposure.
Time it right. Peak times for UV exposure are from 11 am to 4 pm, April to September. Use extra care during outdoor activities at these times, or avoid them. Listen for UV index reports, and take precautions when the UV levels are 3 or higher.
Use protection. Choose a broad-spectrum natural sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15. Apply 20 minutes prior to outdoor activities, and reapply after sweating or swimming.
Cover up. For ultimate sun protection, wear long pants and long-sleeved tops in light colours to keep the sun’s rays at bay. Protect your eyes, head, and face by using UVA/UVB sunglasses and a wide-brimmed sunhat.
Pause for reflection. UV rays are intensified through reflection off sand and water. Remember to take extra care when boating or strolling on the beach.
Get some vitamin D. Sun avoidance can lead to vitamin D deficiency, possibly increasing the risk of illnesses such as cardiovascular disease and some cancers. Keep your levels high by increasing fatty fish and fortified foods in the diet, or take a vitamin D supplement.
Drink enough fluids
Dehydration, even a mild case, can affect our brain function and energy levels, causing feelings of fatigue. Severe cases are fatal. Every day we lose over two litres of fluid through body waste, perspiration, and breathing, and replacing that loss every day is essential to good health.
Perspiration and exercise accelerate water loss, highlighting the need for regular hydration in the summer. During long periods of exercise such as marathons, beverages containing sodium and glucose rehydrate the body more effectively than water alone.
Passing pale yellow urine is a sign that you are adequately hydrated (although taking the B vitamins mentioned in the sidebar will lend a bright yellow tint to your urine, no matter how hydrated you are).
Absence of thirst means that you’re drinking enough—by the time you feel thirsty, you have already started to become dehydrated. However, persistent thirst, even when urine is colourless, can be a sign of diabetes and should be investigated by your doctor.
How to stay hydrated
Eat and drink fluids. Up to 20 percent of our daily fluid intake comes from juice-filled fruits and vegetables such as watermelon, lettuce, tomatoes, and peaches. All fluids can be counted toward your total for the day, although caffeinated beverages should be consumed in moderation only and sweetened beverages should be avoided when you are not engaged in long periods of exercise.
Have it on hand. Carry a refillable water bottle with you. You need to drink four or five 500 mL bottles of water each day to replace your average daily fluid losses.
Space it out. Drink water on an ongoing basis to maximize absorption and the hydration effects on your body.
Make it fun. Add fruit to water to provide mild flavouring. Go beyond lemon slices to pear, cucumber, and pomegranate, or add fresh herbs such as mint and lemon balm.
Take advantage of some summer inspiration and set yourself on the path to a year of good health!
Adopting healthy lifestyle habits paves the way for a lifetime of good health. For some extra insurance, consider the following additions: