Sunshine, travel, time outdoors…
Summer is the favorite season of many, and for good reason – it’s fun! But did you know it can actually be good for you? Having fun, feeling less stressed and more positive, and getting more physical activity are all great ways to stay healthy. But summer also brings a unique set of challenges that shouldn’t be ignored.
Read on to learn how you can have your best (and healthiest!) summer yet.
Take advantage of seasonal brain and heart-healthy foods
One of the advantages of summer is the availability of fresh, seasonal vegetables. Many communities have farmer’s markets where you can easily purchase produce and other fresh items that are a welcome addition to a heart and brain-healthy diet. Or perhaps you have a green thumb, and you’re able to eat right from your own garden. In either case, here are some of the best fruits and veggies to incorporate into your diet this summer:
- Red, yellow, and orange veggies (carrots, sweet potatoes, red peppers, acorn squash, etc.) – These veggies are all packed with carotenoids, fiber, and vitamins to help your heart.
- Berries – Studies show that eating lots of berries can reduce several risk factors for heart disease. Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries are packed with heart-healthy nutrients and antioxidants, which protect against inflammation and stress that may contribute to heart disease. These antioxidants also help protect brain cells from damage by harmful free radicals. Berries also change the way the neurons in the brain communicate with each other, specifically helping to prevent inflammation that can lead to brain cell damage.
- Tomatoes – Tomatoes contain lycopene, a natural plant pigment with powerful antioxidant properties, and eating them will produce similar effects to eating berries.
Consumption of lycopene may also reduce the risk of stroke and heart disease. One review of 25 studies showed that a high intake of foods rich in lycopene was associated with a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke, according to Healthline.
For more heart and brain-healthy foods, check out this article.
Avoid the heat
Heat can pose a variety of issues in the summer and can affect your health. There is a growing body of evidence that shows that heat can have a negative effect on mental performance. And if you have heart issues and are on certain medications like beta-blockers or diuretics, be aware that those medications can exaggerate the body’s response to heat.
Heat can also affect your sleep, which affects your health in a variety of ways. According to Dr. Christopher S. Colwell, a neuroscientist and sleep expert, if the temperature is too warm when you’re sleeping, it can cause your body to stay up. “We normally fall asleep when the body’s core temperature drops at night. It’s part of the normal circadian rhythm. If the temperature is too warm, we cannot fall asleep, leading to a night of tossing and turning. Sleeping in a cool, dark environment will help your body get the sleep that it needs.”
When it’s hot out, we also tend to become dehydrated more easily, which can lead to a whole host of health issues. Avoid hot weather if you can, but if you must be in it, dress in lightweight clothing, use sunscreen, limit physical activity, and avoid being outside at peak times of heat (noon – 3 pm).
Staying hydrated has countless health benefits, but it can be more challenging in the summer when the weather is warmer. When it comes to brain health, drinking enough water helps keep the nervous system and the brain communicating properly, which will improve focus, alertness, and memory. Dehydration can lead to mental confusion and fatigue, and long-term chronic dehydration can lead to premature aging of the brain.
Staying hydrated also helps your heart health by helping it work more efficiently, making it easier to pump blood through the blood vessels to the muscles. If you’re well-hydrated, your heart doesn’t have to work as hard. On the flip side, dehydration can force the heart to work harder and can lead to problems ranging from swollen feet or a headache to life-threatening illnesses such as heat stroke.
Most research suggests drinking eight glasses of water is a good daily goal but talk with your doctor before making any big changes to your fluid intake.
Be careful with travel
Summer often means travel, which can be a great way to relieve stress and recharge – if done in the right way. Consider these four strategies for making your trip as relaxing and healthy as possible:
- Be mindful of where you’re traveling – Try to avoid destinations with extreme heat or the possibility of wildfire or increased pollution. The effects of low air quality tend to strike people who are elderly or already struggling with heart disease, and pollution is also believed to have inflammatory effects on the heart, causing chronic cardiovascular problems. If you are traveling to a more remote or exotic location and have a medical condition, be sure to plan accordingly when it comes to medical facilities. Access to healthcare in case of an emergency might be challenging in certain areas.
- Be mindful of how you’re traveling – Sitting immobile on plane flights may increase a normal person’s risk of blood clots in the legs and this risk can be increased if you have medical issues. If you are traveling by car on a long trip, be sure to plan for stops to take any medications, stretch your legs, and use restroom facilities.
- Be prepared (to avoid stress) – Vacation is supposed to relieve stress, but sometimes the process can feel like the opposite. From making flights to coordinating transportation and activities, travel can be stressful. In the human body, stress triggers the release of adrenaline, which causes your heart rate and breathing to speed up and your blood pressure to rise.
Chronic stress has been shown to have a negative impact on brain health. In addition, stress may lead to behaviors that increase your risk of a heart or brain issue. For instance, some people respond to stress by smoking, drinking alcohol, overeating, and being physically inactive.
Be sure to take time to prepare for any trips, including consulting with your health care provider on any restrictions, ensuring medications are filled, and that your finances are in good shape. Doing so will help you avoid stress and enjoy your time away.
- Stick to your regular routine as much as possible – It can be easy to slip into an unhealthy pattern when out of your comfort zone. Watch your intake of alcohol and potentially unhealthy foods and try to maintain your regular activity and sleep habits.
Summer brings all kinds of fun opportunities, but there can also be health challenges. Follow these tips to have a fun AND healthy summer!
- 15 Incredibly Heart-Healthy Foods – Healthline
- 6 common summer health issues and what to do about them – Today
- Heat Making You Lethargic? Research Shows It Can Slow Your Brain, Too – NPR
- Summer Tips for a Healthy Heart – American Heart Association
- Protect your Heart in the Heat – American Heart Association