Treat yourself to better health and happiness before the summer's over. You deserve it!
Go barefoot this summer1. Go barefoot: You don't have to go as far as barefoot running. Simply kicking off your shoes and going for a walk through the sand or grass is just as beneficial by helping to strengthen the muscles in your feet, says Dr. Abigail Allen, director of the Pediatric Orthopaedic Clinic at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. That's important considering your feet are the body's base of support and the foundation of all movement.
Just be sure to use common sense for safety, Dr. Allen says. "Your body will likely tell you when you've been walking barefoot for too long; if you start to feel pain, then put those feet up for a while."
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Eat more chocolate2. Indulge in heart-healthy dark chocolate: We'd be happy to eat more dark chocolate year round, but research shows it might benefit your body the most during summer months. Flavonols (the antioxidants found in chocolate) help protect your skin from UV damage, fight free radicals, and increase blood flow. In one study, flavonols in dark chocolate even improved skin hydration and thickness.
But that doesn't mean you can skip sunscreen, cautions Dr. Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research in the dermatology department at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. The research indicates that two to three ounces of chocolate with 70 percent or more cocoa is all you need to reap the health benefits.
Get outside the gym3. Get outside the gym: Summer weather is the perfect excuse to skip the stuffy gym and work out in the park, on the beach, or even in your own backyard. Thanks to the dose of vitamin D you'll get from the sun, this habit doubles the health benefits of your indoor routine.
"There is usually more daylight in the summer, so switching up your routine from gym workouts to outdoor workouts, for example, gives you the mental and physical benefits of vitamin D-maintaining bone health, boosting the immune system, and preventing cancer," says Dr. Raza Hussain, a hospitalist specializing in adult inpatient medicine at Northwest Medical Center in Arkansas. "The only way to get real vitamin D is sunlight, but be sure to wear sunscreen while exercising outside, as you don't need to get sunburned along the way."
Need some inspiration for taking your routine outside? Try any of these 10 awesome outdoor workouts.
Boost your happiness quotient4. Boost your happiness habits: More and more research shows that boosting happiness may add years to your life and improve immunity. There's no better time than the sunny summer months to make some new happiness habits.
Step one: Laugh! "We laugh when we are happy, and research shows we are happy when we laugh," says Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph. D, a psychologist (she's Shaquille O'Neal's happiness coach), and author of A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness. "Spend time with people who make you laugh, watch funny movies, or even just laugh at nothing at all. You will feel happier and make those around you happier too," she says.
More simple happiness boosters:
1. Do something silly like blowing bubbles: "It's fun, makes us feel like kids, and requires deep breathing, which reduces stress and increases happiness," Lombardo says.
2. Get outdoors and be adventurous: Research shows that being in nature can reduce stress, and being active and trying something new boosts your happiness, Lombardo says.
3. While you're being adventurous, play some great tunes! "Music is a powerful way to change your mood, so develop a playlist that motivates and energizes you." (Check out this happiness-inducing, summer playlist to get you started).
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate5. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate: Combine the warmer temperatures (that make you sweat more) with a tendency to indulge in summer BBQ beers or margaritas on the beach (that dehydrate), and your body probably needs a little extra water this summer, says Dr. Florence Comite, an endocrinologist who specializes in wellness-based healthcare and preventive medicine in New York City. How do you know if you're getting enough H2O? "The 70/70 rule of thumb is a good one to follow: When the air temperature goes above 70 degrees or humidity is greater than 70 percent, you should be drinking more water than normal," Dr. Comite says.
Aim to drink about half your weight in fluid ounces of water each day, a little more if you're exercising outdoors. The best indicator of hydration is the color of your urine, not thirst, Dr. Comite says. So if you notice it's darker, you're probably in need of more fluids.
Move more all day6. Move more all day: Following a regular exercise routine is great, but it's not enough if you spend the rest of your day sitting. "It has been proven that people who sit longer, die sooner. There are tons of studies that link sedentary lifestyles to life-threatening health issues, from obesity and chronic pain to cancer and infertility," says Dr. Gregory Soltanoff, a chiropractor and co-creator of The Movement software program. An active lifestyle can help prevent the onset of chronic, debilitating, and expensive health problems, he says.
Take advantage of every opportunity to move more (beyond your workouts). Explore new cities by foot or bike on vacation, play volleyball or Frisbee at the beach instead of just soaking up sun, or use the longer daylight hours to go for an after-dinner stroll. Summer is the perfect time to add more movement to your daily routine-and continue into the fall!
Get more sleep7. Get enough sleep (finally!): Quality sleep has been linked to a slew of health benefits, and between summer travel and a packed social calendar, getting enough shuteye is especially crucial during this time of year.
Quality of sleep is just as important as how many hours you're logging each night. Research shows that artificial light (TV, night light) can interrupt sleep patterns and cause depression, says Dr. Cathleen London, a board certified family physician and triathlete. If sleep doesn't come easy for you, and melatonin hasn't helped, you may want to try the natural supplement suntheanine. "I am a big fan of suntheanine (pharmaceutical grade l-theanine) to get better sleep patterns, particularly when stressed, traveling, etc." Dr. London says.
Theanine is an amino acid originally found in green tea that is known for its calming effects. It helps stimulate the brain's production of alpha waves to reduce stress and anxiety. "You can even take it in the middle of the night if you wake up and have trouble falling back asleep," Dr. London says. (Suntheanine is available in most health food stores and online).
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Pack in seasonal produce8. Pack in seasonal produce: Make the most out of the season's nutrient -packed produce by visiting your local farmer's market, recommends Helen Troncoso, DPT, a women's health advocate and Ms. New York America 2012. Not only will you be supporting local farmers, but since the fruits and vegetables available are traveling within a short distance, they'll be less damaged and at the peak of their flavor and nutritional content, Troncoso says.
"You get extra bonus points for also helping out the environment and your wallet-less travel time means fewer fossil fuels released into the environment, and organic produce from your local farmer's market is often up to 40 percent cheaper than your local supermarket."