Summer fun means a multitude of activities in the heat and sun: water, picnics, family get-togethers, travel, gardening and more. To make the most of the season, stay healthy with the following tips.
- Stay ahead of hydration. Don’t wait until you feel thirsty to drink water. By the time you recognize your thirst, chances are you’re heading toward dehydration. Water helps maintain body temperature, which is key during warmer weather. One indicator of hydration is the color of your urine; it should be pale yellow. If it becomes dark yellow or odorous, you likely need to drink more.
- Protect your eyes. Exposure to early-morning sunlight without sunglasses but not staring directly at the sun can benefit the eyes and the pineal gland (in the brain), positively impacting circadian rhythms (aka sleep-wake patterns). After 10 a.m., wear sunglasses to block ultraviolet A and B rays and protect your eyes from sun damage—and from crow’s-feet around the eyes, too.
- Get outdoors early in the day. A little sun exposure is an excellent way to get vitamin D, and it’s a natural mood booster. Ideally, limit sun exposure to the hours before 10 a.m. and after about 3 p.m. Between those hours, when UV rays are at their strongest, wear at least 15 SPF sunscreen and reapply every two hours to avoid sun damage.
- Go easy on alcohol. As tempting as it is to splurge on beer or cocktails when lounging or playing in the sun, it is best avoided. Alcohol can be dehydrating because it acts as a diuretic, leading to increased urination and sweating. If you get intoxicated, you may lose track of the time you’re out in the sun, increasing your risk of sun damage and sunburn. Women tolerate alcohol differently than men, and drinking alcohol is associated with increased health risks in women, including heart disease, breast cancer and liver disease.
- Drink green tea. Iced tea is almost synonymous with summertime. Consider making iced green tea. Numerous studies show that catechins (antioxidants) in green tea may protect the skin from harmful UV rays. The catechin responsible for sun protection is called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG); it also has other benefits, including controlling blood sugar, boosting metabolism and preventing certain cancers.
- Eat your red, white, blue and greens. Summer may be traditionally about hot dogs and cherry pie, but it should really be about the fresh, colorful fruits and vegetables that abound this time of year. Eating a variety of colors—think cherries, berries, lettuces, cauliflower, broccoli, summer squash—will keep you feeling (and living) longer, stronger, younger, healthier and happier.
- Don’t lounge around in a wet bathing suit. Pools, hot tubs, lakes and the ocean are breeding grounds for bacteria. Although chlorine is meant to kill such bacteria, it can also wipe out the body’s good bacteria and be a serious irritant for not only the vagina, but also the skin. Instead of avoiding water altogether, shower before and after you soak, empty your bladder before and after you soak and, if possible, change out of your wet bathing suit into some cotton underwear and light, breathable shorts or a sundress.
- Rest well. Remember tip number two: that when you expose your eyes to natural sunlight early in the day, it supports your circadian rhythm? Honor that by resisting the temptation to stay up later during the longer days of summer. Invest in blackout drapes, if necessary, and get to bed before 10 p.m. We know adequate sleep is essential for optimum health, mood, cognition and metabolism, so try to keep the same sleep patterns all year long.
Dr. Debra Rouse is a licensed naturopathic doctor and member of the Institute of Functional Medicine. drdebrarouse.com