The warm spring and summer months offer a lot of good reasons to jump-start a healthier wellness routine. Milder temperatures can make outdoor activities more pleasant. Farmers markets and grocery stores are full of fresh, seasonable produce. And the warm weather seasons themselves are associated with better moods and higher energy levels.
As many as 4 to 6 percent of Americans become depressed each winter as a result of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and another 10 to 20 percent are estimated to suffer from a milder form of the type of depression, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. This type of depression leaves people feeling sad, anxious, low in energy, and fatigued from the start of fall until early spring.
In an interview with Everyday Health, actress and Younger star Hilary Duff says she looks forward to the warm weather seasons, and reaps all the wellness benefits they have to offer.
“When I was younger, I could not wait for spring to arrive,” says Duff. “It was (and still is) my favorite season. I’m much happier in the spring when I can spend time outside.”
Duff shares her tips for staying well all spring and summer long:
1. Spend Plenty of Time Outside in the Sun and Fresh Air
The sun and fresh air really can make us healthier. “As a parent now, spending time outside with my son — whether it’s hiking or just an epic game of tag at the park — is so important to me,” says Duff.
Yet recent data suggests, particularly among kids, time spent outside may be decreasing. Wakefield Research and Claritin conducted a nationwide survey of 1000 U.S. adults, including an oversample of 500 parents with children between ages 5 and 12, and found that 72 percent of parents said that as kids they spent at least an hour outdoors each day during the spring; but only 59 percent of those same parents said their children spend the same amount of time outside today.
That trend may not be a good one when it comes to wellness.
“Spending time outdoors has been shown to improve both mental and physical health,” says Vivian Hernandez-Trujillo, MD, a pediatric allergist and immunologist in Miami Lakes, Florida.
The sun is one of the best sources of vitamin D (our bodies synthesizes vitamin D3 when we step into sunlight, absorbing it through cholesterol and changing it into a hormone). Vitamin D is essential for bone and cell growth, neuromuscular function, immune function, and inflammatory reduction. Everyone should be getting between 400 and 800 international units (IUs) of vitamin D per day, depending on age. And as few foods (others than fortified ones) contain the optimal amount of vitamin D we need each day, sunshine is a great way to get it — as long as you’re protecting your skin from harmful UV rays, too, by wearing sunscreen and sun-protective clothing.
Additionally, previous research that examined the effect of time spent outside on health and brain function in older individuals found that people who spent more time outside had fewer complaints about musculoskeletal pain, sleep problems, urinary incontinence, and being able to carry out daily functioning than those who went outside less.
2. Reinvigorate Your Exercise Routine by Changing It Up (or Jump-Starting It!)
During the winter, you may find yourself stuck in a routine of exercising indoors, especially if you’re living in cooler regions. Whether you joined a gym, went to spin classes, or worked out in the comfort of your home (or put exercise into hibernation mode), warmer weather offers a lot of new ways to get moving and more active.
RELATED: Tips for Exercising Outside in Cold Weather
For Duff, hiking, swimming, and training outside with her friends are her go-to exercises during the warmer months. “My friends come over, and we have a trainer come work with us outside while my son plays in the pool.”
Indoor winter workouts can help to prevent a number of weather-related health conditions, such as hypothermia and muscle strains. A study published in August 2013 in the journal Medical Science Monitor found that lower temperatures can cause your muscles to tighten and reduce elasticity, which increases the risk of straining or tearing a muscle. “The biggest danger with exercising in cold weather is hypothermia, where body temperature drops heart rate and cardiac output decreases, causing potentially fatal arrhythmias,” says David Webner, MD, a sports medicine physician at Crozer-Keystone Health System in Springfield, Pennsylvania.
Not only does exercising outside mean a whole new menu of exercise options, your body actually works harder when it works out outdoors to keep up with the inclines, bumps, gusts of wind, and other small obstacles you face in the natural outdoors. The good news: A small study published in August 2012 in the journal Environmental Science Technology found that the color green found in trees, grass, and plants makes exercise feel easier.
3. Freshen Up Your Diet With Seasonal Foods
Eating seasonally and locally can be beneficial to both our health and the economy, in addition to being fresh and tasty.
“I hide greens in smoothies for Luca,” says Duff, who adds spinach to her son’s berry smoothies. “We did a taste test with two smoothies with same ingredients, but one contained spinach. Once I got him past the green color, he couldn’t taste the difference and loved it!”
Seasonal foods are those that are consumed around the time they are purchased and harvested. “I highly recommend adding seasonal produce as they become more available, and the warmer weather is a great time to prioritize getting in adequate vegetables and fruits,” says Autumn Limegrover, RD, a corporate wellness dietitian at Family Food in the Philadelphia area.
Though what’s in season varies depending on where you live, here are some great warm-weather picks that each provide a host of their own benefits, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA):
Local farmers can tell you how your food was grown and what practices they use to raise and harvest crops, so you know exactly where your food is coming from. Once you purchase local fruits and vegetables, getting kids to eat them is the next challenge.
4. Spring-Clean Your Space by Ditching the Clutter
Finally, take the time this spring and summer to rid you of anything and everything that is negatively impacting your health and wellness. A good place to start is the excess clutter that might be lying around your home, Duff says.
“Each year I spend four months living in New York,” she explains. “When it’s time to move back to Los Angeles, I take the opportunity to reduce my belongings and donate anything I no longer need.”
Many of us can relate to feeling a little bit more in control when we’re not living in a mess. And there’s some evidence our perception of clutter can affect our stress levels and mood. One study, published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, found that women who described their homes as being more stressful (using words such as cluttered or unfinished) were more likely to report worse moods than women who described their homes as restorative (using restful and nature-like words) — and those women with more stressful homes had higher cortisol levels throughout the day.