Warmer weather and longer hours of daylight in the upcoming months can dramatically change how we spend our time. Parts of our schedule may become more flexible and relaxed or life might become even busier. These and other factors can have implications for our eating patterns, hydration, physical activity, and sleep habits.
As with other times of transition, the move into summertime might benefit from a little fore-thought. Consider making a plan for taking care of yourself during the next few months. This could potentially result in more energy for what you want to be doing, a more positive mood, and better overall health. If summer gives you time to focus on and practice self-care, you may also be more likely to carry these positive habits into the fall and winter.
Warmer weather obviously means paying attention to hydration needs. Environmental heat and humidity warrant an increased intake of fluid. A body that is more active requires even more, especially around the time of exercise. Consuming fluids throughout the day can help to fill and maintain your fluid tank. About a half hour before an increase in physical activity, a good goal is to tuck in another 8 oz. During physical activity, try for at least 4-8 oz. every 15-20 minutes. After the activity, drink as much as you can comfortably over several hours.
Water is just as good as carb/electrolyte drinks for up to an hour of physical activity. For continuous exercise lasting longer than that, water and food sources of carbs/electrolytes or a sports drink can be helpful for providing additional fuel and for making fluid more available to the body.
Summer might also be a time to work on sleep habits. Adequate, high quality sleep is especially helpful if there has been an increase in physical activity. Hormones secreted during sleep can assist in muscle building and repair of body tissues damaged by exercise. They are also important for growth and development in children and teens. Unfortunately, when life gets busy, sleep often gets compromised. Being purposeful about adequate sleep can help you to better enjoy the summer months.
Longer hours of daylight allow for more options and time to be physically active outdoors. Consider the wide range of possibilities and plan for how to slip one or more in each day. Participating in various types of physical activity is not only better for your body, but can make it more pleasurable. Some activities can provide you with time alone while others can be more group oriented and social. Also come up with alternatives indoors if the weather does not cooperate and rain bumps out your original plan. To avoid the heat of mid-day, consider being more active early in the morning or later in the day.
When it comes to summer eating habits, the goal would be similar to other months of the year – eating within about an hour of waking and then every three hours or so throughout the day. This provides consistent fuel for the brain and body, as well as opportunities to get in needed nutrients. Since summer may mean a looser daily schedule, an increase in activities that occur during typical meal times, and more social activities, this pattern may require some planning to accommodate potential obstacles.
To stay consistent with a healthy eating pattern and to have more control over your options, think about the day or week ahead and note when you may want to pack some meals and snacks. Make a list of some healthy foods that can be eaten on the go and put what you need on your grocery list. Plan to make some healthy one-dish meals that contain several food groups and can be made in bulk. These are handy for portable lunches and dinners when life gets busy.
Environmental temperatures also play a role in food choices. Less perishable foods tend to be a good choice at this time of year due to the warmer weather. Using a thermal pack or cooler would be important for more perishable foods and for cool beverages.
Summer also means increased availability of local fresh fruits and vegetables. Since many Americans fall short in their intake of these healthy food groups, consider how you can increase your intake in the months ahead. Check out farmers markets and other sources of fresh produce in your area.
Social eating events tend to increase during the summer months and these do not always align with our health goals. They tend to offer foods higher in calories, saturated fat, processed meats, sodium, refined grains, and added sugars. Beverages choices offered might contain ingredients like added sugar, juice, and alcohol.
If you are trying to limit these less healthy and higher calorie options in your own diet, one idea might be to eat a light meal before attending and then just eat less at the event. If you are taking a food dish to the event, you could make a healthy one-dish recipe that you could then eat once you get there.
For beverages at the event, water is always an excellent choice. Otherwise, you could limit yourself to maybe one serving of a less healthy option as a treat and then go back to drinking water.
So, although summer provides a lot of great possibilities for attending to better health, it can also throw in some challenges. With a little planning, however, transitioning into summer can allow us to be at our best to enjoy all that summer has to offer.
Pam Stuppy, MS, RD, LD is a registered, licensed dietitian with nutrition counseling offices in York, ME and Portsmouth, NH. She has also been the nutritionist for Phillips Exeter Academy, presents workshops nationally, and provides guidance in sports nutrition. See www.pamstuppynutrition.com for more nutrition information, some healthy cooking tips, and recipe ideas.