There’s nothing like long summer days. Whether you’re jetting off to tropical climes or just kicking back on the patio with a cool glass of lemonade and a favourite book, summer is guaranteed to lift your spirits – but what makes it feel so good? In the modern world, we have comfortable levels of heat and light, most of the time, year round. What is it about summer that’s so different?
Loving the light
First of all, not all light is created equal. Although we’re used to hearing about how too much UV light can harm us – and it is important to remember the sunblock when you’re out and about in summer – it also has some uniquely beneficial effects. The most noticeable of these is that it lifts the mood. It can drive mild depression away altogether and significantly reduce the symptoms of anxiety. For people with Seasonal Affective Disorder, who really struggle during winter when the days are short, it changes everything – and even if you’re lucky enough to escape that, you’ll find that it’s easier to feel positive about the world when the sun is shining.
Lots of fresh air
After the stuffiness of winter, it’s really good to be able to open up the windows and let air flow through your home. You’re also likely to be spending more time outdoors, which has been shown to have beneficial effects on mental health, especially if you’re spending time in the natural environment. The Japanese call this shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing”, and have a long tradition of visiting wild places in order to enhance calmness and spiritual growth. Research shows us that we’re naturally wired to find certain shades of blue and green soothing, giving us an instinct to seek out healthy natural places. This doesn’t require expensive holidays – even your local park will do the trick.
If you are going on holiday in summer or if you just want to wear less – a natural response to the heat – then you may be thinking about working on your figure. Not everybody is built to be supermodel-shaped and that’s fine – successful dieting is all about getting to the point where you feel comfortable in your skin. Summer is actually the easiest time of year to do this, as recent studies have shown that the blood sugar balance undergoes a natural shift during the warmer months to help us burn off any remaining fat that our bodies stored for winter. It’s also easier to get hold of fresh food and a good variety of tempting fruits and vegetables, with something to suit every palate. Just remember that you’ll also need to drink more in order to look after your health, as you’ll lose a lot of fluids in sweat.
Although you may not feel like exercising in hot weather, the chances are that it will sneak up on you. That’s because when the weather is warm, exercise becomes part of day-to-day activity. You’ll probably find that you’re walking more and you may be doing other healthy things such as swimming or playing volleyball just because they’re fun. Bike rides are a great way to get out and about on summer days, and you don’t need to be going fast to reap the benefits where health is concerned. You could play a few rounds of golf, go pony trekking, or just kick a ball about with friends, all of which will improve your physical wellbeing and, in turn, boost your mood.
Time to relax
If getting active is easier in summer, so is being inactive – that is, getting to sleep. This is because another of the benefits of sunlight is that it prompts the body to produce more melatonin, the hormone that regulates the sleep cycle. It’s easier to get up on a bright morning and easier to doze off at night. In warm, bright weather, rates of insomnia and fatigue drop markedly, leading to overall mental health improvements with anxiety significantly reduced. You’ll also feel more alert during the day. To make the most of this, make sure that you keep your bedroom well ventilated and keep a glass of water next to your bed so that your sleep isn’t disturbed by dehydration.
With so many positive benefits, there’s a lot to enjoy about summer. Look after your health during this time and you could make some of those benefits last through the rest of the year.