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July 14, 2023

Forget New Year's – summer is the perfect time to start healthy habits

The season brings expanded exercise opportunities, fresh produce and a mental health boost. And social gatherings offer a reminder that relationships are a great motivating factor

Men's Health 50-Plus Men
Summer Beach Run Source/Image licensed from Ingram Image

The summer is the perfect season to embark on a healthy lifestyle. The frequent social gatherings offer a reminder that relationships are a great reason to start exercising regularly and eating healthier.

Summer Gold – that's my shorthand for the golden opportunities the season offers to jumpstart healthy behavior.

Highlighting the connections to all things healthy this time of year has become an annual ritual of this column, and for good reason. As an advocate for men's health, I don't want guys (and the people who love them) to miss this window into practices that can change their lives and establish a permanent pathway to health and happiness.

Whether it's finding your "why" to live healthy through time spent at the Jersey shore with family, getting outdoors and becoming more active, or eating more fruits and vegetables from a farmer's market, the summer has it all, and the experts back that up.

The case for a summer start

The case for a summer kickoff to a healthy lifestyle starts with a verification from the experts that summer is truly a season of opportunity. 

According to Providence Health, summer is a "perfect time" to embark on a holistic healthy lifestyle that can benefit your physical and mental health. Among their recommendations is a host of outdoor activities including pickleball, yoga and hiking or walking. 

Scholars at the University of Arkansas indicate that people spend more time at outdoor activities throughout the summer, and offer a wide range of advice from healthy meal choices to exercise and safety precautions to make the most of the season. 

The American Heart Association says that summer's warmer weather presents great options for outdoor exercise and an active lifestyle, which can yield numerous benefits. And in their Tips for a Healthy Summer, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that the increased opportunities for physical activity have "immediate" health benefits, including better sleep and reduced anxiety.

With the experts on record that summer is a super time to launch a lifestyle change, let's take a deeper look at the key components behind this opening. For this examination, I will cite some of my prior columns related to summer opportunities. They provide quick access to additional insights.

Supercharged social motivation

At this time last year, my message included a rundown on the strong dose of social motivators that summer brings and the powerful "why" for health behavior, which is imbedded in these experiences. Vacations, holidays and family gatherings place our most precious relationships front and center for us to connect the dots with their lifestyles. 

Among these dynamics is the inspiration offered by the young people we encounter. Time enjoyed with adult children and grandchildren can be a motivator to adopt a healthy lifestyle. Intergenerational relationships can contribute to a person's well-being and are aligned with better physical health and cognitive functioning among older adults.

The bottom line: the summer season presents a compelling case for practicing a lifestyle that will help keep you active and around to enjoy the people you love – and those who love you.

Expanded exercise options

A second dimension of the season is the increased potential to get physically active. Outdoor activities and warm weather expand exercise options and deliver significant health benefits. 

Outdoor exercise provides increased health benefits. Experts report that exercising in nature leads to greater health outcomes than performing the same activity indoors, with people more likely to repeat being physically active when exercise is performed in a natural environment. 

And swimming regularly can lower stress levels, reduce anxiety and depression, and improve sleep patterns. It also is one of the most effective ways to burn calories and increase energy levels.

A mental health boost

Summer also can provide mental health benefits. According to the United Kingdom-based Psychreg Journal of Psychology, sunny conditions can have a positive impact on mental health and mood. The journal points to evidence that good relationships, such as those enhanced by summer activities with family and friends, are vital for our mental well-being. 

And Centerstone, a nonprofit health system specializing in mental health, says there is science that shows summer is a time of better mental health and a great time to invest in lifestyle habits that can support your mental well-being.

An opportunity to eat a balanced diet

Finally, we can't forget the opportunity to eat healthier. With fruits and vegetables anchoring healthy diets, and regional delights like Jersey corn, tomatoes and peaches at their peak, the summer is a wonderful time to embrace a healthy diet. 

Among the summer dietary recommendations offered by the Mayo Clinic is what they call the healthy plate, balancing your dish with portions of fruits, vegetables, protein and whole grains. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that fruits and vegetables occupy half the plate, with the other half filled with grains, protein and dairy.

Registered dietitian Beth Czerwony, at the Cleveland Clinic, recommends that if you are concerned about the temptations from bowls of chips and other not-so-healthy foods, that you eat something healthy before you go out. Czerwony also suggests that if you are the host of a summer cookout or are bringing some entrees, that you consider dishes like salmon or honey-orange grilled pork tenderloin with chipotle chiles for a tasty and healthy balance.

Summer precautions

Along with these extended opportunities come some precautions which are important to mention. 

Exercising in hot, humid weather necessitates that people closely monitor their fluid intake and rest at least 10 minutes during each hour of a workout, among other necessary precautions. Drinking water not only keeps your body hydrated, but also may lower the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and certain cancers. Following these steps can help maximize your efforts.

Leverage the season

There's no doubt about it, summer puts your most cherished relationships front and center and defines a strong "why" for kickstarting healthy behaviors. At the same time, the season offers outdoor options for physical activities that you don't get in January when you're making those New Year's resolutions.

All this, combined with increased access to fresh fruits and vegetables and a good measure of mental health benefits, makes the season ripe for a fresh look at your lifestyle.

Seize the moment and leverage the season. There's not a better time of year to make the commitment. 

Louis Bezich, senior vice president and chief administrative officer at Cooper University Health Care, is author of "Crack The Code: 10 Proven Secrets that Motivate Healthy Behavior and Inspire Fulfillment in Men Over 50." Read more from Louis on his website.

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