Now that summer is in full swing, it's time to get outdoors, be active, play, and have fun. Balancing the benefits of a warm season with our busy schedules can, however, be challenging. After all, summer should enliven, not drain, our energy. Whether you're battling heat exhaustion or a touch of sunburn or simply trying to figure out what to serve for dinner, there are simple ways to turn up the fun and turn down the heat.
To cool off after a day in the sun, soak in a lukewarm bath. Add a few drops of peppermint and calendula essential oils to help bring your body temperature down and also to help relieve sunburn. Or fill a spray bottle with water and a few drops of those oils and spritz yourself whenever you feel hot. One way to chill is to reconsider the foods you eat during the hot summer months. Some foods, known as "cooling foods" in Traditional Chinese Medicine, can actually help decrease signs of heat in the body. Salads, for example, can have a tremendous cooling effect, so pick lettuces, cucumber, celery, and tomato. Fresh summer melons, such as cantaloupe and watermelon, have a high water content and also keep you refreshed (plus they provide a good amount of vitamins B6 and C, as well as potassium). As a bonus, watermelon contains the carotenoid lycopene, which may lower your risk of cancer and coronary artery disease. Fresh corn on the cob, rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, is another good choice. These two nutrients help protect the eyes, which are particularly vulnerable to sun damage this time of year.
Also notice how your body gravitates toward lighter foods during the summer months. Eating less and lighter fare is the natural way your body works with nature's cycle. To keep meals light, choose grilled fish, tofu, tempeh, or free-range chicken or turkey, served on a bed of mixed lettuces.
Along with your meal, you may be tempted to cool down with a large glass of iced tea filled to the rim with ice cubes. Think twice. Tea's caffeine can act as a diuretic, leaving you dehydrated. Taking in too much cold liquid can also weaken your digestive organs, making you feel anything but refreshed. A better choice is to fill your glass with pure water at room temperature. A slice of cucumber, lemon, or lime adds a zing of flavor and variety. Another option is to cool down with a homemade smoothie. Juicy berries are rich in antioxidants, including ellagic acid, a potent cancer fighter. Also take pleasure in eating berries slowly, one by one, savoring each distinct flavor and the health it brings to your body.
Possibly one of the most healing opportunities of the summer season is to lie under a shady tree and simply relax. Indulge in a spontaneous picnic (keep a basket with utensils, a well-worn blanket, and some sun-shading hats in your car so you're always prepared). Just don't forget to wear a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15. This is no longer optional; it's a must for everybody, every day. Don't go outdoors in the summer sun without putting it on first.
BE WELL is written by James Rouse, ND, the creator of Optimum Wellness and The Fit Kitchen, seen weekly on NBC's KUSA television news.