When we think about summer, we tend to think about lazy afternoons, grilling out, and beach trips with the family. If we happen to think about summer health concerns, we might think about drinking enough water and wearing sunscreen. What we might not realize is that this time of year comes with a whole host of unique health challenges and opportunities.
If we want to stay in tip-top physical condition all-year-round, we have to make the most of our summer. This is one of the best seasons for having access to fresh produce and getting active outdoors. That said, it also comes with some obstacles.
Here are some unique health and nutrition considerations for the summer months that I find both underrated but critical to staying healthy all year.
5 Crucial Summer Health & Nutrition Concerns
Concern #1: Food poisoning
Summertime means a lot of eating outside at cookouts, potlucks, and picnics. With that comes an elevated risk of foodborne illnesses. In fact, the United States Department of Agriculture estimates that they’re two times more likely during the summer months.
The bacteria that causes food poisoning thrives in summer’s heat and humidity. Food poisoning can be dangerous for anyone, but especially for children and older adults who can rapidly become dehydrated. It can also cause heart and muscle problems.
We can avoid food poisoning simply by prioritizing refrigeration and coolers and by respecting the expiration date on foods. Even two hours left out of refrigeration may make foods unsafe, and just one hour in 90-degree weather or hotter will spoil your food. Don’t risk it!
Concern #2: Hyperthermia
Most of us are more familiar with “hypothermia,” but hyperthermia encompasses a whole category of heat-related illnesses and concerns, such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke. It’s important to know if you have existing conditions that can harm your body’s ability to regulate temperature, such as a heart condition, poor circulation, or obesity.
Beyond that, it’s about knowing the signs. If you feel dizzy, out-of-breath, nauseated, or start cramping up, you might be experiencing signs of hyperthermia.
Make sure you don’t exert yourself too much on hot days. Save heavy yard work for the cool of the morning and stay indoors in the heat of the day. Remember to stay hydrated and take regular breaks if you’re doing any sort of physical activity.
Concern #3: Overindulging
For many of us, summer is still synonymous with vacation. Unfortunately, we usually make this an excuse to put our healthy eating habits on hold, too. Many Americans, during the summer, wind up indulging on too many treats. We go too heavy on salty snacks, alcohol, hamburgers and hotdogs, and homemade desserts. It tastes great, but it’s all meant for moderation.
The solution to this isn’t fun, but it’s crucial: don’t let your diet take a vacation. You can have a day or two or indulgence, but don't let potato chips become a part of every meal. When you grill out, grill fresh vegetables like corn and asparagus. Have grilled salmon instead of bratwurst. Focus on the farmer’s market instead of on quick pre-packaged foods. You can still enjoy the flavors of the season without making every weekend a Fourth of July feast.
Concern #4: Sun Damage
Sun damage might seem like the obvious concern of the season, but it’s not just about avoiding a painful burn. It’s about preventing long-term consequences. The summer sun can cause serious damage to our skin, greatly increasing the risk of melanoma. The importance of protecting your body whenever you go outdoors (not just when you’re at the beach) can’t be understated.
It’s critical to wear a daily SPF. If you’re working outside, put on sunscreen. Going for a run? Sunscreen. Get a chapstick with SPF. Wear sunglasses that block UVA/UVB rays. Wear hats. Cover up as comfortably as you can in the heat.
The problem with sun damage isn’t that people are unaware of the danger, it’s that we tend to only really think about protecting ourselves in a few specific contexts. We wear sunscreen at the pool and at the beach, but rarely think to put it on outside of that context. It’s time to get in the habit all summer long!
Concern #5: Getting Lazy
Depending on who you are, this might not be a problem. For some people, however, the temptation may be to do a lot of nothing during your free time during the summer. Instead of taking advantage of the great weather and opportunities in front of you, you might tell yourself it’s too hot or simply say, “hey, it’s the summer!” and use that as an excuse to get sedentary. This is dangerous to your health!
While there’s nothing wrong with a little R&R, just 30 minutes of exercise every day can make all the difference in the world. Don’t let the heat or the season be an excuse to neglect your health.
The summer is full of opportunities to feast on wonderful, nutritious fresh foods, enjoy the company of friends, and bask in great weather. At the same time, we have to be aware of what may be impacting our health all year long.